Interop pushing carriers to consider non-IMS RCS

Interop Technologies has partnered with a Canadian mobile operator on parallel lab testing of Rich Communication Services (RCS) with and without an IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) core as the vendor strives to prove the time-to-market advantages for an operator that offers RCS even before it has established stable IMS functionality.

"We're trying to convince them not to wait till their IMS core is up and commercial," said Damian Sazama, vice president of corporate and product marketing at Interop, who declined to name the operator involved. "They still have a ways to go to get their IMS core up and running for VoLTE and so forth, so that's why we urged them to let us do this trial both ways," he told FierceBroadbandWireless.

Some vendors developing RCS solutions requires those to work with an IMS core, which many Tier1 operators are already installing in preparation for RCS and voice over LTE (VoLTE), said Sazama. Other vendors, however are implementing RCS functionality either within an IMS Core network or without an IMS Core network.

In Interop's case, the vendor has built the IMS functionality that RCS requires into its server. "It's not full IMS functionality, but only the IMS functionality that RCS requires," Sazama said. "We're trying to get the word out there that you don't need an IMS core."

By deploying RCS without IMS, operators can quickly begin offering new IP-based voice and messaging services that can compete with over-the-top (OTT) offerings from third-party providers. If an operator later installs IMS, Interop can change certain settings on its server so the solution will work with the IMS core, said Sazama.

European operators, led by carriers in Spain and Germany, are diving into commercial RCS services via the GSM Association's Joyn branding initiative, which uses RCS-e (the "e" stands for "enhanced") technology for lighter RCS functionality such as video sharing during a voice call and multimedia chat. "If you're an operator that's still charging per message, as in Europe or South America, an OTT app that offers free messaging can be very painful to you," said Sazama.

Those operators have taken financial hits from the stunning growth of OTT VoIP services such as Skype and messaging services such as WhatsApp, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMessage and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Messenger. Over-the-top VoIP services like Skype are predicted to cost telcos $479 billion by 2020, according to a new study from research firm Ovum, representing 6.9 percent of cumulative total voice revenues. Ovum also predicts that by 2016 operators will have lost $54 billion in SMS revenues due to the increasing popularity of social messaging services on smartphones, more than double the $23 billion they are expected to have lost by the end of 2012.

In markets such as North America that have unlimited calling and texting price plans, the revenue impact from OTT communications services is not as great, but operators nonetheless do not like give up control of their customers to OTT apps, which potentially sets up a carrier to become the dreaded dumb pipe, said Sazama. OTT apps add new features, such as video chat, that consumers are clearly hungry for, creating an opportunity for carriers to begin providing those types of services, he said.

Likewise, Ovum said its research indicates mobile customers are being heavily influenced by their experiences with OTT players' services, "and now expect traditional operators to provide content, relationships and history within a service, irrespective of device or access method."

North American operators are expected to skip RCS-e and instead deploy services based on the more full-featured RCS 5.0 specification. "The true whiz-band stuff is in RCS 5. That's where you get presence and an enhanced address book" that shows what RCS capabilities a contact has, such the ability to receive a file transfer, said Sazama.

Operators around the world are issuing RFPs for RCS 5 in hopes of starting trials in early 2013 and being ready for commercial deployment in late 2013, said Sazama. While many large Tier 1 operators have installed IMS cores, smaller operators have not and some of their RFPs call for both installation of RCS capabilities, including VoIP, and IMS cores.

For more:
- see this Interop blog entry
- see this Ovum release and this release

Related articles:
Report: OTT VoIP threat to operators is exaggerated
Analyst: RCS will generate 80B messages annually by 2017
WhatsApp conquers Dutch social messaging market
Vodafone Germany leads rivals with Joyn launch to battle OTT messaging apps
MetroPCS launches $55 unlimited LTE rate plan
OTT: The monster under the bed