Google is leading a multi-partner effort to accelerate the availability of Rich Communications Services (RCS) on the Android platform.
The company will work with several global telecom operators, including Vodafone, Sprint, MTN, Orange, Bharti Airtel and Deutsche Telekom, to develop consistent feature sets, configurations and implementation standards for RCS on Android.
"Operators have agreed to transition toward a common, universal profile based on the GSMA's RCS specifications and an Android RCS client provided by Google in collaboration with operators and OEMs," Google and its partners said in a joint statement at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain.
RCS is a GSM Association (GSMA) specification for cross-operator messaging that is designed to enable the creation of a next-generation Short Message Service (SMS) capability that will allow users to send instant chat, text, video and multi-media instant messages across carriers, just like WhatsApp, Facebook and numerous others already do.
The GSMA has been working for several years to foster broader adoption of the RCS standard, or Joyn, as several operators around the world call it. The goal is to give mobile operators a way to better compete with the slew of third-party instant messaging services that are readily available to mobile users these days. Many believe that the explosive growth in the adoption of such apps over the past few years poses a major threat to the revenues that carriers have traditionally been able to generate from SMS and other messaging services.
A report released by Juniper Research last June showed that traffic from over-the-top messaging services, such as WhatsApp, will increase more than threefold over the next few years from some 31 trillion messages in 2014 to 100 trillion messages in 2019. Traditional SMS services from mobile network operators still continue to dominate the market in terms of revenues, but operators are struggling to reverse a gradual decline that's been happening since 2013. According to Britain's Office of Communications, total revenue generated by operator-offered SMS and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) communications fell for the first time in 2013 and has been sliding downward since then.
Despite the efforts of GSMA, the adoption of RCS so far has remained somewhat limited at best. Currently, only T-Mobile among the major U.S. carriers offers a messaging service based on RCS. The company last year announced a new messaging capability built on RCS that was dubbed Advanced Messaging. The service allows T-Mobile subscribers to engage in real-time chat, see what others are typing, get message-delivered receipts and share high-resolution photos and videos of up to 10MBs. The service is designed to work across all devices, operating systems and wireless operators that support the RCS standard.
"With T-Mobile Advanced Messaging, you won't need to search out, download, install, set up and register an extra app to get all that and more," the company's CTO Neville Ray had noted at the launch of the service. "It just works. Right out of the box."
According to the GSMA, some 47 carriers in 34 countries currently offer RCS as part of their service.
Under the joint initiative announced this week, the participating parties have agreed to use an Android RCS client technology that Google will develop and what they described as a common, universal profile for RCS based on the GSMA's specifications. "Features such as group chat, high-res photo sharing, read receipts and more, will now become part of the operator messaging experience," the joint statement said.