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RCS is only dead if you close your eyesChris Koehncke
Google announced today they were buying Jibe Mobile Software, a purveyor of RCS products (Rich Communication Services). RCS was invented as the next version of SMS way back in 2012. Like all things telco, RCS had a several hundred page standards document explaining in detail how RCS would work, but only an entire page was dedicated to the user experience! A handful of telcos, mostly European, launched RCS and like a weighted rock off the back of a rowboat at midnight – it went nowhere and nowhere fast. Why bother? We had more than enough chat clients to choose from and they worked just fine, worked worldwide and worked mostly for free.
Noted industry consultant, Dean Bubley, clawed in fees providing shock therapy to the telcos who wanted to launch RCS services. With each telco mention of RCS, Dr. Dean administered a mild shock to the participants. His schedule was booked for months.
RCS, you have to be kidding me right?
For many months, Google has been thinking about Apple’s iMessage service. Thinking, disliking, jealous – pick your adjective. Whatever, Android didn’t have anything like iMessage, sure there were apps, but nothing ubiquitous and it was all highly segmented.
The challenge Google wanted what iMessage did, combine on-net messaging with traditional must get thru SMS messaging and offer a richer experience in a single client. But, they couldn’t simply launch their own iMessage. iMessage is closed, limited to only Apple products and definitely not telco friendly.
So what Google needed was something they could offer up as part of Android, be open so that others could access it, ensure you could access it across multiple devices including your laptop and do this all without getting the telcos overly excited.
So in that sense the Jibe acquisition makes total sense.
RCS like all things telco is about federation. Federations are complex, slow moving and usually lowest common denominator. Witness the PSTN. User experience is usually last on the list of concerns. So to wear out the phrase, I say this won’t be your Daddy’s RCS with Google.
The original concept of RCS was that your client would connect to your local mobile operators RCS server which would take your contacts and go looking amongst other worldwide RCS servers to see if your friends were on RCS. A really neat bit of technical wizardry. But hardly efficient. More likely Google will be the RCS server period, scale won’t be a problem. Or at least Google will be the default server which an operator could fiddle with or try and convince you the user to change (why I have no idea).
The positive news about RCS and likely a big plus for Google, the technology does scale and it does in fact work. Things Google can use as base blocks upon which to build
So here’s what I think.
- Expect to see RCS and Hangouts to have tighter interlinking.
- Expect to see broader messaging support across a wider swatch of Google Applications (beyond simply Gmail and Hangouts).
- Expect that Google will have a public API (RCS, RCS-lite and/or perhaps something more developer friendly) to allow 3rd parties to access. Google learned with Chat that an XMPP interface did not get widespread development (sans a handful of zealots) so I’d expect a closed RCS API for telcos types (lower confidence) and a friendly API for mainstream developers (higher confidence).
- Security will be a big concern. iMessage is well documented as to the user security and tightly tied to the client itself. Governments worldwide hate iMessage. RCS traffic is encrypted, however, highly secure it is not and this will no doubt raise all sorts of privacy questions.
- This is part of a grander strategy in revamping the Google Desktop and expect some other shoes to drop as we witness communications, collaboration and context all merging into single all-in apps. Mark me down as having voted the best collaboration app is Gmail.
- If you have an RCS server stored in your West Covina warehouse, I probably wouldn’t be rushing to dust it off. RCS, at least in telco land, is still dead. Call Dean Bubley for shock treatments, he has an opening next Tuesday if you’re interested.