Operators get RCS ready for breakthrough

Wednesday 24 February 2016 | 11:48 CET | Background

The Rich Communication Suite (RCS) developed by the GSMA has seen a slow take-up since first started in 2007, but carriers are now getting ready to roll it out on a large scale in order to respond to OTT services, according to Ingo Hofacker, responsible for product management and innovation at Deutsche Telekom. He spoke with Telecompaper in an interview at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Hofacker said it's not a question of a battle between carriers and OTT players, but he acknowledged that mobile operators have suffered from the rise of messaging services such as WhatsApp. The two now have a "mutual dependence" in which operators guarantee the quality of the online services, a type of "symbiosis", Hofacker said.

A key development was the acquisition last year by Google of RCS specialist Jibe. Google announced at MWC that it plans to support RCS with an Android client. At MWC last year, Jibe showed IP messaging services with RCS together with a number of mobile operators, including Deutsche Telekom, Sprint, Vodafone and KPN. 

The aim now is for Google and operators to work together on finally turning RCS into a mass-market service, supported by a consistent set-up for the around 1 billion Android users worldwide. To date, 47 carriers in 37 countries have implemented RCS on their own, but the number of users has been limited by configuration and interoperability issues. 

The GSMA expects an "enormous uptake" of RCS in the coming years, it told Telecompaper, driven by the new cooperation with Google. The industry group expects RCS could reach 1 billion users within 18 months. A more consistent platform and efforts by carriers and developers to make RCS work on as many devices as possible will drive the growth, said David O’Byrne, Director Network 2020 at the GSMA.

'Partner model works'

DT has embraced partnering with OTT players, while other operators have been more slow to see the value. "However you look at it, OTT players benefit from better coverage and lower latency," said Hofacker. "This guaranteed quality is essential for the user experience." 

Mobile providers should not try to differentiate themselves with new services, Hofacker said. Instead they should focus on optimising existing services, using the network as the starting point. “Carriers need to put the customer experience first. Customer should have always-on access to services, whether it's Spotify or YouTube, without having to think about connectivity, Wi-Fi or 4G.” 

The pressure on mobile networks will not relent in the coming years. Not only mobile video is driving exponential growth in data traffic, but new services such as virtual reality will demand their place on networks, Hofacker expects. This makes latency an important area for attention. "4G in theory will ensure low latency, but when VR becomes mainstream, you will need 5G. VR is still in the early stages and it will be a few years yet before VR becomes a part of the communication mix." 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at MWC that VR will be the 'killer application' for 5G. Facebook has partnered with the likes of Intel, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom and others in the Telecom Infra Project to work on the required scaling of telecom networks in order to deliver the capacity needed for video, virtual reality and other online services.

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