RCS update: The invisible giant?

Last year, we provided information on the development of RCS and reported on the difficulties Google encountered on the road to successful implementation. Lately however, we have not seen any updates about the “successor of the SMS”, so we looked into it. Our research showed: RCS is already implemented throughout Germany (according to GSMA and Deutsche Telekom). Sounds good? Well, in the real world, RCS is not fully available to everyone. What is worse: those who “have” RCS may not know about it.

RCS in Germany – The silent launch

The state of affairs is actually quite simple. Currently (mid-June 2020) the Rich Messaging Service is officially available by Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and O₂. However, in the user forums of the network operator O₂, it is pointed out that customers should be able to use RCS by the end of June 2020. O₂’s customer service continues to say that the rollout will be successive. Therefore, the service will not be activated for all users at the same time. This seems to be true for the other providers as well.

On the whole, there is a noticeable lack of noise around the communication giant that RCS is supposed to be. The information provided by the network operators is difficult to find and often seems incomplete. There seems to be little agreement about who can use RCS with which device, when – and what conditions apply. When we were searching for the service online, we mainly found articles about possible security gaps or other not so current developments. What we wanted to find were offers from the network operators. Essentially, this lack of communication also means that those who get access to RCS may not be aware of it. Apparently you get a notification when RCS is available on your device, but if people do not know what RCS is, they will likely ignore it.

In any case, one circumstance is obvious. Just because RCS is officially available from the network operators’ side, it is far from being available on all end devices. The discounters Aldi Talk and Congstar apparently do not yet support RCS at all. Nevertheless, according to the GSMA, there are 430 million active users. At least 13 million are based in Germany.

Overall, we are left wondering why network operators are not promoting the introduction of RCS more notably. For them in particular, the service is potentially lucrative. Possibly this has something to do with the fact that the multimedia communication tool is not (yet?) as universally usable as desired.

RCS for Businesses – Rich Business Messaging (RBM)

Currently, it seems that RCS is only really interesting for B2C and A2P in Germany. At least this is where examples for possible applications seem to offer real benefit over other available services. Of course, RCS is also suitable for P2P communication, but to compete with OTT apps will be very difficult for a new service, especially at this stage.

At this point we also have to ask ourselves how useful RBM can be if there is no clear communication about how and when the target group can use the medium at all. Creating trust in a service certainly looks different.

In addition, there is another shortcoming: Even though RCS has already been launched in many parts of the world, a connection to all these networks is not yet guaranteed. So far, only the German providers are connected to each other and there are exceptions here as well.
According to their own statement, however, Telekom is talking to international providers to make interworking possible. Nevertheless, this circumstance does not suggest that it is valuable for companies in Germany to use RBM in the near future.

RCS sending of rail ticket

Will Apple implement RCS?

In the past, the potential of RCS was repeatedly limited by the argument that Apple would not implement RCS, because they already have a successful native messenger app with iMessage. The GSMA had talked to Apple about the possibility of implementing RCS in 2018, but there have been no updates since then. We are seeing the same phenomenon here as well: a step towards implementation is taken, then apparently nothing happens for a very long time. Of course, it would be very beneficial for the standard if Apple actually implemented RCS. While iOS has about 20% of the market share in Germany, the share in the USA is almost 50%. Therefore, every second smartphone owner in the US would not be able to communicate via RCS. They would have to use a non-native app, which is really the opposite of what RCS is supposed to facilitate.

Likely, there will be a compromise sooner or later. Nick Lane of Mobilesquared said in an interview that Apple had to support RCS if they wanted to use the 5G logo. According to him, this is required by the GSMA. He also said that, that RBM would not be implemented, as it is a direct competitor to Apple Business Chat. We could not  find any statements by Apple, that would confirm this, but the company likes to keep quiet about such statements in general.

The thing about end-to-end encryption

In our outlook to the future of A2P messaging, we already mentioned the fact that RCS is not end-to-end encrypted. At the end of May, the blog 9to5Google published an interesting article about this. It reports that a dogfood version of the Google Message App shows that end-to-end encryption (E2EE) is at least being tested. Is this a cause for celebration? Probably not. What is interesting here is a statement by RCS experts from Deutsche Telekom. In a round of questions at the end of 2019, they answered the question of whether RCS would use end-to-end encryption by saying that “end-to-end encryption is not permitted for telecommunications companies [in the EU]”.

So it seems unlikely that E2EE would be available in Germany if Google were to equip its Message App with it.

Honestly, it looks like a lot of time will pass before RCS really becomes visible as the giant the GSMA says it will be. The problem areas range from actual availability in Germany, to the arrangements needed to connect RCS users worldwide, to safety issues that are still unresolved. When all these issues are resolved and companies and private individuals are really able to use RCS, the service can certainly become big. However, the general public might see RCS as a failure at some point if its implementation remains to be this problematic.
We remain curious and will report as soon as we learn something new!

Are you already using RCS? Feel free to leave a comment and tell us about your experience.

Best regards
Your sms77 team
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