Google’s efforts to drive broad acceptance of the Rich Communication Services cross-operator mobile messaging technology across the Android ecosystem got a boost this week.
The company on Feb. 16 announced a partnership with Norwegian telecommunication giant Telenor Group that will bring RCS messaging to some 214 million additional people across Europe and Asia.
Starting this week, Telenor subscribers in multiple countries including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, India, Malaysia and Thailand will have access to RCS as a standard feature on their Android devices.
Telenor subscribers who already have the Android Messenger app on their devices will receive the RCS functionality as an over the air update, Google’s head of RCS Amir Sarhangi explained in an announcement on the company’s The Keyword blog.
Those who do not have Messenger can now download an RCS-enabled version from Google Play. “Many” new Android devices that will become available to Telenor subscribers will come preinstalled with Messenger for Android as the default RCS application, Sarhangi said.
RCS is a messaging specification from the GSM Association (GSMA). It is designed to bring features like group chat, read receipts and high-resolution photo sharing to the usual text messaging capabilities supported by the Short Message Service (SMS) protocol.
The technology is designed to give SMS users the ability to send and receive text and multimedia messages with the same ease and functionality supported by so-called over- the-top (OTT) messaging technologies like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
OTT messaging services, especially popular ones like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, have begun taking a large chunk of messaging traffic away from mobile phone service operators. Increasingly, mobile consumers have begun eschewing the default chat app from their carriers in favor of OTT apps like WhatsApp.
Until relatively recently though, the trend had little negative impact on the revenues that carriers made from their text messaging services. But that has begun changing.
A new report from Jupiter Research released earlier this year predicts that OTT messaging services and social media could cost operators a massive $104 billion in total this year, or roughly 12 percent of their revenues. The report noted that the success of multiple OTT platforms had begun to impact operator margins and messaging traffic substantially. WhatsApp, for instance, alone accounted for nearly three times as much messaging traffic as all SMS combined, Jupiter had noted. Emerging features like group video and voice chat, which are becoming available with some OTT apps, could drive their popularity even more.
Numerous operators have hitched their messaging technologies to the RCS bandwagon in a bid to reverse the trend or at least compete more favorably with OTT apps. But the effort has been slowed by competing and incompatible implementations of RCS by different carriers.
Google last year announced an initiative aimed at fostering use of a common, universal RCS profile by operators and equipment manufacturers. Google has committed to working with multiple large telecom operators including Sprint, Vodafone, Orange and Deutsche Telekom to develop standard configurations, features and implementations for RCS. A total of 58 carriers and manufacturers have committed to using RCS.
The Telenor RCS partnership is the third major one in the messaging space for Google in recent months. In November, the company announced a similar partnership with Sprint in the U.S. to make RCS messaging available to Sprint’s Android-using customers. In December, Android customers of Canada’s Rogers Communications began getting RCS messaging as the result of a partnership between Google and Rogers.