Why RCS never made it

The blogosphere is thick with accusations that mobile operators don’t “get” Social or even, worse still, the Internet. A favourite example is RCS which, in case you’ve just joined us from Mars, is/was an industry initiative to develop the next-generation of communication services. RCS was initially launched in 2007 and, as a result, predates everything. People say that the industry did nothing with RCS since then but they’re wrong. It produced five whole sets of standards, each as rigorous and complete as anything out of the IETF, OMA or 3GPP stable.

So, why has no-one ever done anything with RCS? The answer is that it broke the golden rule that you must not, on any account, do anything that might damage the golden geese of voice and SMS. RCS incorporates presence, for example, the little red or green man that shows whether you’re available or not. With presence, if I see a little red man beside my friend’s name, I won’t phone him, I won’t leave a voicemail and I won’t send a follow-up text; in return, he won’t pick up the voicemail, won’t receive the text and won’t call me back. That’s three calls and two texts that don’t get done because of one little red man.

But isn’t that little red man is the way of the future? Shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but the people who run telcos also use Skype to talk to their relatives overseas. Do you think they don’t “get” the little red man? Do you think they got their big jobs despite being stupid? No, they know that there’s great money to be made from CS voice and SMS and that the goose should be left to continue laying golden eggs for as long as possible.

The Internet tells us that Viber, as of May 2013, is supporting c.1 billion voice MOU and 1 billion SMS each month. Compare that to c.190 billion MOU and c.180 billion SMS in the US alone. I don’t know how much revenue the world’s operators have made out of providing the data connectivity required to carry Skype and Viber’s traffic, but I’d bet it’s orders of magnitudes more than the revenue generated by Skype and Viber for all their free calls.

* NB. This post is about RCS, not the similar-sounding, related, but ultimately different thing called RCS-e, which has been launched by a number of cellular operators under the brand name joyn™.


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