After many years of starts and stops, it’s finally here. Rich Communication Services, or RCS, has been an emerging technology that is reaching fruition this year and promises to revolutionize text messaging as we know it. RCS will transform text messaging by enabling advanced media features similar to WhatsApp and WeChat while providing the reach and reliability of traditional text messaging.
In particular, RCS will open a new world of ways for brands to connect with customers. Rich features like high-resolution photos and videos, payment options, mapping directions, and location sharing tools are just a few of the richer, more engaging features that brands will be able to take advantage of to create truly branded conversations with any device.
Syniverse has been at the forefront of this rich business messaging and helping our customers extend new RCS capabilities to their consumers. As part of this, I recently sat down with my colleague Mathias Muehlfelder, Senior Director, Product Management, another one of our leaders in RCS and text messaging, to discuss RCS in depth for an interview that has just been featured in the first issue of our new Syniverse newsletter.
I hope you find the interview below insightful and useful, and I hope you sign up to receive our newsletter. To subscribe for our newsletter for businesses, click here. To subscribe for our newsletter for communication providers, click here.
What are companies saying about RCS, and where does RCS stand in terms of its rollout in the market?
Mathias Muehlfelder: First, I’ll tell you that the brands that are asking us about RCS messaging are enthusiastic. They are leaders in their space looking to digitally transform their businesses. So, we are often hearing questions like, “We know RCS is the future of messaging, but when will it be ready? We’re eager.”
While this enthusiasm is well-placed, RCS is really in its infancy. Right now, RCS is being tested and implemented, but it’s not “campaignable” yet as a single channel of engagement across the globe. To understand why this is, and to gain a clear view of RCS rollouts, we have to widen our perspective and better understand why mobile operators are a crucial first step in RCS deployment.
Take us through a mobile operator’s critical role in the RCS value chain.
Brian Beach: First things first, mobile operators across the globe need to add RCS functionality to their network, and they need connectivity to make RCS ubiquitous in a region. The best way to achieve this is to connect to RCS hubs. These hubs need to peer, or connect, together to enable ubiquitous reach in every region. In addition, you need large numbers of consumers buying a mobile handset that has RCS natively installed. Right now, Android is leading this charge.
The good news is, all of this is happening now, and major progress is being made behind the scenes. We’re working with the major players on the operator side to lay the foundation of RCS, from hosting to RCS connectivity, while also working with large Fortune 500 brands to implement RCS trials so they can start engaging with their customers as fast as possible.
What is the incentive driving mobile operators to enable RCS on their network?
Brian Beach: RCS is important for mobile operators because it will enable them to move up the value chain. Syniverse is the driver of this value, with our combined RCS-specific technology and other connectivity and engagement solutions. We like to think of it as giving the keys of the kingdom back to the operator because we empower operators to work with brands, both large and small, to enable the richest messaging channel to date.
We have an industry leading RCS Hub called IMS Exchange, that not only provides reach, but also interoperability with different implementations of RCS messaging. This product has been in place for several years and is now starting to see a large amount of interest from operators across the globe. We also have a Rich Business Messaging platform that allows one or many operators to exchange RCS traffic with brands. This platform allows the operators to onboard their own brands if they choose to do so. It’s powerful, and one of the main reasons why RCS is beginning to take off in the market. This means, instead of being the traditional “pipe” to deliver messages to their subscribers, mobile operators are able to set a fair market price for RCS messaging through our Mobile Marketplace platform and are able to sell it directly to businesses. I’ll tell you, there’s not a single mobile operator that we work with right now that isn’t talking about jumping at the opportunity with RCS.
When can we expect RCS deployments to take off?
Brian Beach: What we’re going to see in 2019 is a lot of operators going live with RCS. After that, it’ll be a ripple effect. Mobile operators understand the opportunities of this messaging channel and are eager to deploy connectivity as soon as possible to enable the customer experience of the future. I predict that 2020 will be the year that RCS starts to gain traction, with brands sending heavy traffic through the mobile operators that have declared that they’re ready in late 2019.
Connectivity around the world is great, but what will the pricing model look like and how will it compare to standard text messaging (SMS) pricing?
Mathias Muehlfelder: Today, with SMS, I create a text message, it is sent to a mobile operator’s network, and the mobile operator delivers the message to a subscriber’s mobile device for a fee. That one-way interaction ultimately dictates the final price of the message. If two-way messaging occurs, it results in very few messages today through the standard SMS channel.
RCS is set to be much more conversational, so there likely will be different models for RCS pricing. For example, RCS messaging may be priced per chat session with a customer. Sessions make sense because you don’t want to end up paying 30 times the message price since you’re no longer sending just a one-way message. So, for example, a brand could buy a 30-minute chat session with a customer.
Mobile operators could also adopt a pricing model like the digital advertising price per impression that exists today. In this model, businesses would pay based on sales conversions over RCS since all customer actions are trackable.
Bottom line is that commercial pricing models are still being worked out and are being weighed meticulously. Mobile operators don’t want to discourage brands from interacting with their customers, so there are a lot of major industry players that are weighing in on this decision.
That’s exciting news. So, it’s clear that there’s a huge opportunity for operators and that global reach and reasonable pricing models are on the horizon. What does this mean for brands? What’s driving all the hype and anticipation?
Mathias Muehlfelder: The excitement around RCS is driven by the desire to make interactions with customers more engaging. For example, a single promotional message, such as “Receive 30% off your next purchase when you sign up for text message alerts,” transforms into an ongoing dialogue with a consumer that is much more dynamic and personalized. Let’s walk through a scenario to illustrate the future of rich messaging.
Say you go to book a hotel room. You research hotels online, book your room, and soon receive a text message saying: “Thank you for booking. Your reservation number is ‘X’ at our hotel property ‘Y.’” Standard one-way interaction.
Now, with conversational messaging through RCS, hotels can tell you about on-property amenities such as dining options. They help you reserve a table at their on-property restaurant by simply clicking a button while enabling you to receive 10% off your final bill. They say, “To discover what’s going around our hotel, click here,” and then direct you to a list of partner attractions that makes your stay special. This is all happening through a chatbot in one message stream and without consumers needing to have the hotel’s app installed on their phone.
These are the things that become really exciting with conversational messaging. Limitations like picture size, sound, and message formatting (160 characters or less) are no longer a problem. I think it’s going to change commerce because it changes the way customers interact with brands.
It’s conversational. It’s instantaneous. And it’s what’s driving all the hype among the largest brands that are looking to digitally transform their customer experiences in big ways.
We understand that RCS will transform the customer experience for the better, but since it’s not here now, what can brands do today to start preparing?
Mathias Muehlfelder: Right now, businesses need to focus on a comprehensive, omni-channel messaging strategy that includes everything from RCS to WhatsApp to standard text messaging. Digital natives may prefer to chat through social media channels like Facebook Messenger while business professionals may prefer to receive their banking account updates through text.
The key is sending messages across any channel, with one communications platform, using customer contact preferences as a guiding light to personalize the experience. Syniverse provides a comprehensive digital communications platform that can send messages across any channel. It’s the best way for brands to ensure that they’re reaching the largest percentage of their target audience.
What industries will be the early adopters for RCS?
Mathias Muehlfelder: All industries have an incentive to adopt RCS to drive down their customer service costs, since RCS will automate a lot of the traditional FAQ-type questions that result in expensive calls to a live agent. A lot will happen in travel and hospitality for travel booking and disruption management. Retail will drive a lot of commerce through RCS as well as customer service. And banks can leverage it for self-service help and account fraud prevention. The possibilities are endless.
Summarize how Syniverse fits into the RCS ecosystem.
Mathias Muehlfelder: Syniverse drives RCS forward in the market by connecting mobile operators with brands, and brands with their customers. No one in the industry has the history, visibility, flexibility or capabilities that Syniverse can offer in mobile messaging. We’ve been here since the beginning and are the clear leaders in the space.
We’ve partnered with mobile operators all over the world to establish reliable connectivity for messaging, which empowers brands to deliver a more seamless experience to their customers. By using our communications platform, there’s flexibility to choose any messaging channel to communicate through: RCS, text messaging, social media, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, email, chatbots, or live agents through texts or voice calls. We continue to be a leader and visionary in the communications space, adding and pioneering new channels like RCS, just as we have done for the past 30-plus years.
A few weeks back, a large mobile operator we work with said to me, “Based on Syniverse’s position in the marketplace, with your messaging capabilities and established operator connections, whether you know it or not, you’re in the driver’s seat for RCS.”
I couldn’t agree more.
As Sr. Product Management Director, Brian Beach oversees the Evolved Mobility product portfolio for VoLTE to 3G roaming as used by tier 1 US operators today. This addresses their 3G sunset concerns and provides a gentle pathway to true VoLTE roaming. Brian has a long breadth of experience in IMS services that reside on Syniverse’s IPX (Internetwork Packet Exchange) network, including VoLTE (Voice over LTE), VoWiFi, Video over LTE and RCS (Rich Communications Services). He joined Syniverse as a member of the Research and Development team in 2005, when he began working with IMS and next-generation messaging, leading the technical aspects of the Fixed Mobile Convergence Alliance (FMCA) global presence and IMS trials. Mr. Beach later moved into the Product Management department where he spearheaded the company’s IMS Exchange product – a session aware P2P Hub for RCS and VoLTE interconnect. Over the last several years he has been focusing on roaming solutions to help operators address the oncoming legacy sunsets that will create a significant roaming gap between VoLTE and non-VoLTE operators. Mr. Beach holds a Master of Science in computer science from the University of Tennessee.