Google gives mobile operators a reason to love it, and opens rich chat up for business

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Google has opened up a major new communications channel for businesses – sending multimedia messages to mobiles using interoperable standards.

Any business can now join Google's Jibe programme following a closed beta last year. As well as blast out simple text confirmations, organisations will be able to use Rich Communication Services (RCS) to send media such as links and locations.

It fulfils the promise Google made two years ago to work with, rather than fight, the GSMA's RCS (Rich Communications Suite in this case) specs. RCS was devised as the mobile operator's answer to over-the-top services like WhatsApp and Skype, and includes group chat, media sharing and metadata like read receipts.

Google's contribution has been upgrading the Android Messaging client to handle the RCS profile, which means the dominant OS (with 86 per cent market share) can use RCS.

Until Google's acquisition of Jibe in 2015, Silicon Valley and the traditional mobile players had been at loggerheads. Many still are, but Google sees an opportunity here. As this Google video (from 2017) points out, "SMS is 20 years old" (it's actually nearer 30) but no interoperable global standard exists for rich chat. This has been "silo'd" into proprietary apps like iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. That has handed an effective duopoly to Facebook and Apple in the West, and WeChat in China.

So working with the carriers was really the only way into the market. Stopping Facebook and Apple isn't the only advantage Google sees. There's upside for its advertising business, and with WeChat demonstrating the potential of commerce over chat – something not proven outside China – Google could potentially face falling behind on an emerging platform if it continued to hand the initiative to Facebook and Apple.

Departing Google software engineer Steve Yegge recently pointed out that Google had lost the ability to develop its own new ideas, citing Google+ (Facebook), Google Cloud (AWS), Google Home (Amazon Echo), Allo (WhatsApp), Android Instant Apps (Facebook, WeChat), and Google Assistant (Apple/Siri) – which had all been me-too copies of successful services. But in this case the innovation has been done: the value comes from interoperability, not any new feature. ®

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