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Why is Google supporting RCS? What progress has it made so far? And how is it working with aggregators to power RCS business messaging? Last week, the company outlined its mission to MEF members. Here are the highlights…

“RCS is real. It’s happening.”

That was how Todd Parker, head of business development for carrier messaging at Google, opened up his review of the messaging format at the MEF Connects Digital webinar last week.

Google is well-placed to comment. In 2015, Google acquired Jibe and their RCS technology stack in order to work with the mobile industry and GSMA to create a new RCS Universal Profile.

Watch the Google RCS presentation

Since then it has worked with carriers and device manufacturers to roll out RCS. It has also teamed up with aggregators to develop RCS in the A2P messaging space via RCS Business Messaging (RBM).

Brands are watching closely. They have embraced SMS as the default messaging channel for communicating with customers. Now RCS promises to succeed SMS, but add the ability to support group chat, read receipts, video, pictures, GIFs, maps, payments, QR codes and more.

Without doubt, Google will be central to the roll out of RCS. Last week, it laid out the progress made, and outlined where it fits in the ecosystem…

What is Google’s agenda?

Perhaps the biggest question observers have about Google and RCS is: why?

Why is Google choosing to work with a coalition of the world’s carriers when it has a direct connection to well over two billion Android users?

Parker’s answer is considered. “We’re doing this for the good of messaging as a channel also for the Android ecosystem,” he says. “RCS is being built into Android Messages, which we are trying to make the default on Android devices. The latest Android Messages client has SMS, MMS and RCS built in.”

In order to make this happen, carriers must support it. To accelerate this process, Google offers a cloud-based back end and an interoperability hub that carriers can use to connect RCS messages across different regions and handsets.

Parker concedes that not all carriers will choose it. “There will be lots of carriers that launch with their own backend RCS platforms,” he says. “But the advantage of using our backend is that carriers can launch without tying up capital and internal work on integrating network elements point by point. We’ve taken everything a carrier needs into a cloud platform, so they can launch fast.”

Evidently, Google has revived RCS and is now driving its adoption. And yet Parker stresses the collaborative nature of the project. “People think RCS is a Google initiative,” he sat. “It is not. But we think it is very important for us to support it through carrier standards, not something proprietary.”

What is Google’s business model?

What does Google gain from the success of RCS? Well, there’s little doubt it will improve the ‘stickiness’ of Android. That in itself will be of great benefit to Google.

But what about direct commercial gain? After all, Google is providing critical technology to carriers.

“We are partnering with carriers on new services such as RCS Business Messaging and commercial details are still be decided with each carrier.” says Parker.

But this leads to another question: how will aggregators price the messages – especially with the move to session-based conversations rather than one way alerts?

Parker admits this is a tricky one. “We don’t want brands having unpredictable pricing around campaigns. We can’t have a scenario in which conversational commerce becomes uneconomic. So we’re still getting input on how session-based conversations work relative to one-way alerts.”

What is the progress so far?

Google says its addressable user base is over 100 million monthly active users of Android Messages, but that its carriers represent 1.9 billion subscribers. RCS Business Messaging is currently live in US and Mexico with more countries coming soon.

Meanwhile, in the A2P space, the company is working with a growing number of messaging partners. It has more than 55 in US and Canada, 35 in Latam, 70 in EMEA and 15 in APAC.

Google is optimistic that some carriers will migrate 80 per cent of their Android base to RCS within three years. But it believes that, in some markets, 10 per cent RCS penetration might be enough to tip some users.

“In the US, people have family plans with six lines on one account. When they all upgrade, they might all become active RCS users straight away,” says Parker.

What is the A2P opportunity?

Much has been written about the enhanced feature set of RCS. For example, it can support actions – whether it’s opening a URL or a map, inputting a calendar date, or placing an order. And of them can be pre-programmed by brands.

Watch the MEF Google RCS Q&A

Parker says these benefits can be transformative. “Brands say: what could I use this for? We say what can you use web site for? What can you use an app for? It’s the same thing.

“And RCS is so easy to test. You can run one trial or campaign and see what happens. You can’t launch a bit of web site. Or part of an app.”

To repeat, Google is working with partners to make A2P RCS fly. Parker revealed that RBM channel partners can get on-boarded inside 48 hours. They can start building experiences for customers inside two to three weeks.

What is being done to counter fraud?

It seems inevitable that fraudsters and chancers will pounce when RCS reaches the mass market. They always do. Can Google do anything to combat this?

It’s working on it in two ways: by verifying enterprise users and by applying machine learning to traffic patterns.

“There’s a big concern about how free incremental messages could increase spam,” says Parker. “We’re taking this very seriously. We verify senders by looking at the URL of the business, how long it’s been around, its nature and reputation. We can leverage external and internal resources to do this.

“And we have very large team working on the messaging client. We’re borrowing Google expertise from the machine learning and UI teams to improve the experience and also to reduce spam.”

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF Minute


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