Google and RCS: the last gasp for the interoperability standard?

We reported this week that Vodafone Italy and TIM have initiated IP interconnection interoperability tests on their respective networks, with a view to enabling customers of both operators to call each other using voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology and swap messages and bits of contents using RCS-based apps.

The report served as a timely reminder that unlike the 2G and 3G voice services that are familiar to your average mobile user, interoperability between the networks of different operators cannot yet be assumed for VoLTE, and requires a new level of cooperation between mobile operators, as already indicated by the long-running saga between Verizon and AT&T in the U.S.

Indeed, FierceWireless executive editor Mike Dano also pointed out that interoperability in general was one of the big issues the mobile industry "was hiding behind" at Mobile World Congress, also citing the lack of interoperability for video calling because of the development of proprietary services.

Meanwhile RCS -- the GSMA's Rich Communications Suite standard that proponents say could form the interoperability basis for such services -- has not had the easiest of rides. Plans to test RCS interoperability in Italy will no doubt be welcomed by the standard's supporters, but RCS adoption has been patchy to date and scepticism has been rife.

Indeed, CCS Insight's comment that the GSMA "has been working for almost a decade to foster broader adoption of RCS as a way to compete with third-party instant messaging and voice apps" certainly doesn't inspire confidence.

Perhaps the announcement at MWC last week that Google and a series of mobile operators plan to accelerate adoption of RCS on Android will give the standard a much-needed shot in the arm.

CCS Insight pulls no punches here: "In our view, this is the GSMA's last hope for RCS. The suite has been branded and rebranded during the years -- it was called joyn for a while -- and adopted by some operators while being abandoned by others. In South Korea, for example, KT and LG Uplus both announced this month they would shut down their RCS-based services, which simply weren't able to compete against popular alternatives."

Whether Google will make a difference to RCS take-up remains to be seen, but CCS Insight for one has its doubts. It's not hard to see why, when you consider how other apps have now become so popular among users.

"We're not sure RCS-based services can compete against well-established and well-liked proprietary apps. It may be too late to joyn the GSMA's initiative," quipped CCS Insight analysts.--Anne