MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) today launched Rich Communication Services under the GSMA's joyn brand. The effort is an attempt by the carrier to enhance its messaging offerings and counter the rise of over-the-top communications services like WhatsApp, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMessage and Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) Messenger.
MetroPCS is one of the first carriers in the world to launch joyn-branded RCS services, an action that helps solidify its reputation as a carrier on the cutting edge of technology. MetroPCS, which operates in 14 major U.S. cities and counts around 9 million subscribers, was also one of the first carriers in the world to launch LTE network technology, in September 2010.
MetroPCS said it will launch joyn services first through the Samsung Galaxy Attain LTE smartphone. To access the service, users with the phone must download the joyn application from Google's Play Android storefront. MetroPCS said it will add RCS support to 10 phones in November and more in the coming months. By the middle of next year, the carrier will sell phones with joyn technology built in.
So what will joyn do? MetroPCS said the technology will allow users with compatible handsets to:
- See when other users are available;
- Conduct threaded text conversations;
- Share content via one click from an address book;
- Share video, images and files while on a call;
- And conduct voice and video calls over Wi-Fi networks.
RCS has been around for years--the standard is now heading into its fifth release--but it's now being positioned as a response third-party OTT services. Such services eliminate the need for users to pay for operators' SMS services and, perhaps more critically, push carriers further into the background of users' communication activities.
MetroPCS' Solyman Ashrafi, vice of product management, said the carrier won't charge extra for any of the services it is launching today. However: "There are areas where monetization is potentially possible," he said, explaining that MetroPCS could charge for expanded services based on the technology.
In an interview with FierceWireless, Ashrafi acknowledged that MetroPCS is launching the service initially to a small user base. He said messages sent to phones that don't support joyn technology will be transmitted by standard mechanisms, such as SMS. But he said MetroPCS is working with other, unnamed carriers expand the number of joyn-supporting phones and carriers. Most European carriers have voiced support for the technology, but U.S. carriers have remained relatively quiet on the topic.
When questioned whether MetroPCS is launching joyn services as a way to counter OTT messaging providers, Ashrafi said the carrier's primary focus is to improve its subscribers' mobile experience. However, he conceded that OTT players are increasingly cutting into European carriers' SMS and calling revenues. "That has not happened in the U.S. yet, but I suspect it will happen in the U.S. as well," Ashrafi said.
Ashrafi declined to name the vendors supplying MetroPCS with joyn technology, though he said the carrier is working with multiple vendors for the joyn launch.
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