Google to build RCS into Android, but Sprint is the only U.S. carrier voicing support

BARCELONA, Spain -- In its continuing efforts to push the RCS standard for messaging, the GSMA announced that Google will create an RCS client for Android. A number of global operators including América Móvil, Deutsche Telekom, and Vodafone voiced support for the move, but Sprint was the only U.S. carrier that added its name to the list of supporting wireless operators.

When questioned about AT&T's absence from the GSMA's announcement, the operator said in a statement to FierceWireless only that "as a leader in RCS, we believe a common universal profile will benefit customers and speed adoption of rich messaging." Representatives from Verizon did not return requests for comment on the topic. However, T-Mobile last year did announce support for RCS, and the carrier said that it would be open to working with Google to share its learnings from its RCS launch, which supports group messaging, photos and videos up to 10 MB, and other services.

Google said it will offer the RCS Android client later this year. Google's support for RCS stems from its acquisition of messaging provider Jibe Mobile last year. Google noted that its Jibe Platform will also be for sale to operators that want to roll out RCS.

The GSMA's announcement that Google will create a universal RCS client for Android signals the associations continued efforts to build momentum behind the messaging standard. Previously called joyn, RCS (rich communication services) is a messaging standard for mobile operators intended to add features to text messaging like group chat, high-resolution photo sharing, read receipts and more. Such services are common in third-party messaging services like Apple's iMessage and Facebook's WhatsApp, which is part of the reason that users across the globe have migrated to those services and away from operators' SMS.

However, the GSMA has been trying to rally mobile operators around the RCS standard for years, with little success. Indeed, ZDNet just this month reported that two of South Korea's largest wireless carriers -- KT and LG Uplus -- said they will discontinue their support for RCS, largely due to the popularity of the KakaoTalk messaging service in that country.

"Google is just going through the motions," said analyst Dean Bubley, a longtime critic of the GSMA's RCS efforts. "And if it was honest with itself, GSMA would admit that it's also looking for a graceful exit too."

451 Research analyst Rich Karpinski also raised concerns about RCS, noting that "what's a 'standard' without AT&T and Verizon (among others) on board and a target of 1 billion users when simple (and truly standard) SMS has four times that many?"

Added Karpinski: "There's also the problem of monetization. While some operators (think Western Europe) have been hurt by the loss of texting revenue, others (for instance...the notably missing AT&T and Verizon) long ago bundled (and priced) in unlimited messaging into their mobile data-driven shared data plans. With so many opportunities and such urgency around finding incremental ARPU, how much attention will operators actually pay toward a service that most likely will have to be given away for free anyway?"

But Karpinski said the move could help bring some cohesion to the messaging functions on the Android platform, which he said are spread across Google's Hangouts, Messenger and Voice and are a "jumbled mess."

Others raised additional concerns about the announcement:

"It is telling that Google has decided to develop a client, rather than to embed RCS natively in the Android OS," said Ovum analyst Pamela Clark-Dickson. "This may be an acknowledgement that embedding RCS natively in the Android OS would be a lengthier and more complex process. However, operators and OEMs will be able to preinstall the Android RCS client on devices and updates can be driven from Google Play. Although telcos will not have to encourage their customers to download an app, they will still need to persuade them to use the new RCS features."

The GSMA and Google weren't the only companies making news on the RCS front here at the Mobile World Congress trade show. Genband announced that its fring Alliance launched of its inaugural suite of "Revenue Engine Applications," which it said include in-app advertising, payments, federation and "user-generated creative experiences."

For more:
- see this GSMA release
- see this TechCrunch article
- see this Genband release

Related articles:
T-Mobile's RCS details: Samsung upgraded native messaging for Advanced Messaging, but iPhone support unclear
T-Mobile launches RCS services under 'Advanced Messaging' brand, with support from Samsung phones

Article updated with response from T-Mobile.

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