RCS, the SMS reboot

The GSM Association’s Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging standard was originally mooted in 2007. It promised an MMS experience for business-to-consumer messaging. But it never really took off. Instead SMS Enterprise Messaging has prevailed.

And with good reason, it is simple, trusted and works on every handset regardless of network. (Ovum forecasts 1.28tn enterprise messages by 2019 up from 1.16tn in 2016).

Now however, that’s all about to change. RCS received a reboot earlier this year when Google announced that it plans to provide RCS messaging as a native function of Android phones – the engine inside the newly christened Android Messages. And with a growing number of carriers and OEMs agreeing to make it their default-messaging app (Sprint in the US and Telenor in Europe and Asia for example) the RCS standard has had new life breathed into it.

What makes RCS an improvement on SMS?

Whilst SMS will continue to be a mainstay for enterprise messaging, it has offered only baby steps in terms of innovation. For certain functions like two-factor authentication that’s fine. A simple, uncomplicated (but secure) communication between a user and, for example, their bank is all that’s required.

But for brands and businesses looking for ways to engage consumers with rich, more functional content or in a chat scenario for example, SMS can only go so far. RCS messaging offers this functionality and user experience. Messages can be delivered in colour, contain images, interactive menus, video and maps and offer chat and automated chat bot like features.

A simple message to remind a traveller of his flight time via SMS becomes a dynamic and branded experience which could include a QR code for boarding, chat with customer service agents or airline operatives, way-finding maps within the airport and quick response buttons for changing a seat, all from within the delivered message.

There’s growing evidence that enterprises are ready to embrace the benefits that RCS delivers. Ovum’s Enterprise Messaging Survey, in partnership with CLX and Symsoft, explores the business-to-consumer communications market. It found that one in three respondents (36%) are planning to adopt RCS for enterprise messaging.

Among those businesses that are ready to embrace RCS, 94% agreed that the ability to deliver richer communications, including images and videos was key, while 89% were interested in using RCS to allow their organisations to initiate chatbot-based, conversational interaction with their customers. A further 83% liked the fact that RCS enables location services to make messages more relevant and dynamic.

Whilst SMS will continue to be a mainstay for enterprise messaging, it has offered only baby steps in terms of innovation.

Transactions within RCS messages were also a draw for some enterprises. 61% of respondents liked the fact that RCS supports integration with payment platforms, opening up m-commerce opportunities around specific promotions for example.

The opportunity for enhanced branding through RCS proved attractive for 86% of respondents. For example, the ability to display an organizations full brand as the sender ID, whereas SMS-based sender IDs are limited in character length, meaning that branding is often abbreviated and may be regarded with a degree of suspicion by the message recipient.

There’s also a strong indication that enterprises are attracted to security features and end-to-end encryption (E2EE). 67% of respondents indicated fraud protection as a major reason to deploy RCS, rising to 80% of respondents within the financial and public sector. It also matters to enterprises where and from whom they buy their messaging services. 64% of respondents indicated that they trusted telco-based services more than chat apps – a trust related concern presumably felt by consumers too.

Interestingly, enterprises clearly value the advanced features that RCS offers and are willing to pay a premium for it. Over half of the respondents (56%) would pay between 1.5 times to three times the price of an ordinary per-message SMS.

The survey results indicate that enterprises are moving in to a new era of more interactive forms of enterprise messaging as part of a mix of enterprise messaging options that includes SMS for some functions and chatbots and RCS for others. The growth of more interactive messaging formats will also no doubt have an impact on business apps with some commentators already suggesting that this will be the case. After all, why would you spend relatively large chunks of budget developing an app whose functions can be achieved more effectively with a message?

Rob Malcolm, VP, CLX Commuications

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