Starting in 2024, Apple will add support for RCS messaging to the iPhone, according to a new report from 9to5Mac.
An announcement this week by Apple Inc that it will begin to support the Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol of messaging beginning later in 2024 is a huge development in the world of messaging. This is a shot in the arm for GSMA, Google and the RCS protocol it has championed for over a decade to be the replacement messaging solution to SMS.
In this blog post, Brian Kelly, Chief Technology Officer at Openmind Networks, explores this game-changing announcement and the impact that it will have on the messaging industry and telecom operators moving forward.
What is RCS?
GSM, the cell phone industry’s governing agency, developed the RCS protocol which was designed as a modern take on texting that rolls features common on OTT messaging apps into one platform. The protocol allows the exchange of group chats, video, audio, and high-resolution images, plus read receipts and real-time viewing, and looks and functions like other rich messaging apps.
Google currently offers RCS chat worldwide via its Android Messages app to all users who install and use it as a default texting app. With Google’s rollout of RCS as Android’s primary texting platform for Android Messages, many Android phones already come with Android Messages installed. A partnership between Google and Samsung allows RCS features to work seamlessly between the Samsung Messages and Android Messages apps, the default SMS apps on their devices.
Why This Announcement Now?
There is a sense that the announcement from Apple, what was said and the manner in which it was said, spoke to their reluctance in making the statement at all. So why did they choose now to offer support to the RCS framework? Well, they say you can bring a horse to the water but you can’t make them drink. That is unless you have the EU sit on the horse’s head.
The EU’s Digital Markets Act, due to come into force next year, aimed to designate iMessage as a ‘gatekeeper service’ and compel Apple to make its proprietary messaging service available on other platforms such as Android and Windows or face a fine of 10% of its global turnover. Better for Apple to come in line reluctantly than try to face down the EU.
Other factors are at play of course including the emergence of the Nothing app [despite that apps recent issues around user data privacy] that offers iMessage capabilities without the need for an iPhone, and the pressure from data privacy groups who are seeking to have a messaging ecosystem that is fully encrypted.
Whichever straw was the one that broke the camel’s back, RCS advocates would say this announcement is well overdue.
What Does This Mean for P2P Messaging?
If there is a winner out of the announcement in the short term it surely is the end consumer. By default, pretty much all smartphone users are bracketed either as iOS users or Android. This announcement means iPhone users will now be able to send and receive better quality personal messages to their contacts. Read receipts, high quality video, response emojis and even full encryption are likely to be the upside functionality that will be supported by this greater interoperability.
P2P messaging is only going to improve as an experience and it will further cement personal messaging as the preferred communication method for every smartphone user on the planet, all 5Bn of them and growing.
Of course, RCS is still in its early stages despite being around for a decade. With penetration on 1Bn+ phones worldwide it is far behind SMS on 5Bn and the likes of Whatsapp on 2Bn. But with a projected 1.5Bn iPhone users worldwide in 2024 this announcement will likely double the adoption of RCS in one fell swoop.
What it means for P2P SMS
Apple’s RCS support signals a further hastening of the decline in traditional P2P SMS messaging. As we are shifting towards a richer, more interactive messaging experience for users SMS will actually be difficult to access as the majority of handsets will likely come pre-installed with iMessage or RCS which can now communicate without the need for SMS.
It is unlikely however to spell the end for P2P SMS messaging as the default/fallback messaging channel for devices worldwide. Despite well over 90% of smartphones being able to avail of rich messaging experiences we still see an ongoing need for SMS as a fallback requirement for the medium term at least. SMS might become similar to text-only emails in contrast to HTML emails in business correspondence.
What it means for A2P SMS messaging
In short, it means very little in the medium term. This Apple announcement relates to RCS and iMessage interoperability. For business messaging the protocols are different with Rich Business Messaging (RBM) on the Android side and Apple Business Messaging on the iOS side. These protocols remain separate and so, for now, A2P SMS should continue its dominance in this area with strong growth in business messaging still forecast into the future. In fact, with the vast majority of SMS revenues in telecommunications coming from A2P SMS, this will be a source of relief for the industry. However, interoperability on the personal messaging platforms does indicate that this is the way business messaging will go in the future.
A2P SMS is in rude health still but the pathway forward for it is now clearer. In the context of 5G messaging and services we continue to see huge growth for SMS traffic in the billions of IoT messages that will be required to contribute to the economy of connected devices. These messages may not be the cash cow that A2P message termination fees have been in recent years but they do at least show an ongoing need for SMS.
What Does This Mean for OTT Message Providers?
For the OTT messaging platforms who have been hoovering up P2P messaging users worldwide for years now this will not be good news. It will improve the experience of pre-installed messaging apps on handsets and obviate the need for the likes of WhatsApp. The EU would not be happy to hear that this push from them is actually going to increase the hegemony of Google and Apple in the short term at least. The spirit of the Digital Markets Act is to open up these markets to new entrants, not solidify the grip of the digital behemoths. We can expect more developments in this space in the future.
The Ever-Evolving Messaging Landscape
Network operators may have a choice to make in terms of which flavor of RCS they will sign up to. Currently Google’s RCS is the only viable option and it is an effective default RCS but perhaps Apple will release their own version of RCS and increase the interoperability between Android and iOS devices even further.
Here at Openmind we are, like all industry players, keeping a watchful eye on developments so we can respond to our Wholesale and Mobile Operator clients effectively to support them in this. Evolving core messaging to include RCS is a dominant concern in the industry since this announcement and we are committed to responding with innovative solutions that will meet these concerns.
We continue to deliver the highest quality network monitoring services to our clients to ensure messaging traffic is transparent and without fraudulent traffic.
We continue to provide the most advanced core messaging services across all generations so SMS messaging is resilient, scalable and secure.
Finally, our CPaaS enablement solutions are finding ways for operators to deliver business messaging at scale and with advanced flow-builder functionality. These business messaging capabilities increasingly need to be across a variety of channels including RCS and OTT.
If you would like to discuss your position on RCS adoption and the implications for SMS messaging then please do get in touch with us directly.
To learn more about the topics covered in this article, or to discuss how Openmind Networks can help you navigate the future of business messaging, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact our team of experts online here.