Popularity of Internet-based messaging services such as WhatsApp, Hike and Telegram has adversely impacted revenues of the telecom operators. Rise of these OTT services have led many to believe SMS will sooner or later become obsolete and carriers will be left being nothing more than a dumb pipe. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has already crossed 1 billion monthly active users, while Facebook Messenger has gone past 800 million monthly active users. Now, Airtel, Vodafone and other global operators have tied up with Google for Rich Communication Services (RCS) to bring a revamped cross-operator based messaging service, which has features on par with the popular OTT services.
Apart from Airtel and Vodafone, Google’s telecom partners include América Móvil, Deutsche Telekom, Globe Telecom, Millicom, Orange, Sprint, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, Telstra, Turkcell, and the wireless standards body GSMA.
What is RCS?
The RCS is a project being spearhead by GSMA. The purpose of the new service is develop a cross-operator communications that is similar to SMS, but brings features such as group texting, voice calling, high-res photo sharing, read receipts, and even file sharing. These features are currently available on Internet-based messaging services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram.
Does it work with other operating systems?
Even though RCS is being developed by Google, it will be available for other operating systems provided the OS maker signs up for the program. Considering that Android is the largest operating system and Google has already tied up with several telecom operators, the new service can see quick adoption worldwide.
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How do Google, Airtel and Vodafone benefit from RCS?
We are all aware about the standoff between the operators and OTT players in the past. Back in 2014, Airtel had tried to tame the OTT services by imposing dedicated tariffs for Internet-based voice calls. After drawing flak from all corners, the operator had withdrawn the data charges. Operators have long demanded that these OTT services should share their revenues or be regulated. These demands have grown after WhatsApp introduced its voice calling feature. RCS will give Airtel and Vodafone a chance to be more competitive.
According to the recent TRAI figures, India had 1.01 billion mobile phone subscribers as of December 31, 2015 is 1.01 billion. Bharti Airtel has the highest market share at 24.07 percent, followed by Vodafone at 19.15 percent and Idea 17.01 percent.
While Airtel and Vodafone look to revamp the operator-based messaging service, it will still need participation of other Indian telecom giants such as Idea and Reliance.
For Google, Facebook has become a major competition, especially key and important markets such as India. After acquiring WhatsApp, Facebook has strengthened its base globally, especially in mobile messaging services. WhatsApp has over 1 billion global monthly active users and India alone contributes more than 100 million monthly active users. With RCS, Google gets a chance to use its dominating position in the smartphone market with its Android OS, that powers ultra low-cost to high-end smartphones.
With OTT services getting more feature-rich and smarter, the RCS initiative could be the final chance for the operators to make a comeback. It remains to be seen whether other telcos in India and other countries embrace this new feature.