Rich Communication Services: Nobody uses it, nobody wants it, but analysts reckon it's on the verge of a breakthrough

A viable alternative to the platforms with billions of active users between them? There's still work to be done

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Analysis Rich Communication Services (RCS) was initially pitched as the inevitable successor to SMS, offering enhanced multimedia functionality and other fun stuff, like read receipts.

But despite over a decade's worth of work, it's still very much a non-entity in the messaging space, with Juniper Research forecasting that just 16 per cent of devices will support the tech by the end of the year.

The analysts at Juniper estimate the total number of RCS-enabled smartphones in circulation to be 744 million. And while that sounds like a lot, it is just a drop in the bucket compared to the global mobile market. Canalys fingers the global number of 2019 smartphone shipments at 1.36 billion. And that doesn't include the millions of KaiOS and "dumb" phones sold each year, as well as the trend for people to hold onto their mobiles for increasingly long times.

There's another caveat: RCS-enabled phones don't necessarily translate into RCS users.

The molasses-like rollout of RCS is partially due to carrier and vendor apathy – not to mention that it's a convoluted mess from a technological perspective. There's only really one firm that's all-in on RCS, and that's Google, which sees it as a remedy to its messaging app woes, as well as a potential rival to Apple's iMessage (even though it's an open standard that uses a federated architecture, with carriers playing an oversized role).

But there are other more significant market shifts that point towards why RCS hasn't taken off. In 2007, when the GSMA was first toiling on the foundational work for the spec, there was no WhatsApp. WeChat wasn't a thing. ZuckBot 2000 was still one year away from launching Facebook Chat – which would later become Messenger.

At that point, an overhaul of SMS looked sensible. But in 2020, it feels a bit outdated. The industry has moved on.

Still, Juniper reckons there's still life in these bones, writing that RCS is on "the verge of disrupting the mobile messaging market" with carrier support improving and increased software-level support from Google.

Bold words, but it's still not clear what "disrupting" actually means in the context of RCS. Will it become a viable alternative to WhatsApp (1.6 billion monthly active users), Facebook Messenger (1.3 billion), and WeChat (1.1 billion)? Or will it continue to occupy the fringes of the messaging space? ®

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