Synchronoss CEO still has high hopes for RCS in U.S.

Synchronoss
A familiar fixture at wireless trade shows, Synchronoss plans to be at Mobile World Congress 2021 in Barcelona this summer. (Monica Alleven/Fierce Wireless)

Despite the dissolution of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI) that was supposed to make Rich Communications Services (RCS) interoperable in the U.S., the company that was awarded the contract to provide the platform remains optimistic that RCS will, indeed, survive and thrive in the U.S.

That might sound incredulous considering the GSMA started the RCS effort more than a decade ago and it’s still not exactly going gangbusters. Last week, news broke that the owners of the CCMI decided to end the joint venture, which involved all the major U.S. carriers. However, AT&T and Verizon did say they remain committed to “growing the availability of RCS,” without giving specifics.

Synchronoss Technologies won the contract to provide the RCS platform for CCMI at the end of 2019. Since then, it spent much of 2020 and early 2021 getting that platform ready.

With the demise of the joint venture, Synchronoss is pivoting its focus to a one-on-one basis with the operators because “they’re all still quite bullish on RCS,” Synchronoss President and CEO Jeff Miller told Fierce.

He said Synchronoss does not expect a disruption to its financial expectations as a result of the CCMI decision. Given its relationships with the carriers and the work it’s done thus far, it believes the company is in a “great position” to help facilitate the launch of RCS in the United States, which it hopes to do later this year.

Miller took over as interim CEO in September after the departure of former Synchronoss boss Glenn Lurie. In March, the Synchronoss board announced Miller as its permanent president and CEO. The company plans to have a presence this summer at Mobile World Congress 2021 in Barcelona, which Miller plans to attend in person.

T-Mobile last month announced a big deal with Google that involves expanding RCS with Android, so it’s clearly on board with one of the biggest boosters of RCS. In 2015, Google bought Jibe Mobile, an early provider of RCS services.

RELATED: T-Mobile boosts RCS in TV reboot with Google

Google’s support for RCS in the Android world is great, making it competitive with Apple’s iMessage, according to Synchronoss. Since about half the U.S. smartphones in use today are from Apple, it’s a key piece of the RCS puzzle, and so far, Apple doesn't support RCS.

They’ve gotten around Apple’s lack of support for RCS with an RCS app, which is only available in Japan as of now. The client/app strategy in the U.S. is still being determined, according to Lokdeep Singh, general manager and SVP of Messaging at Synchronoss.

In separate statements to the press last week, AT&T and Verizon said they remain committed to “enhancing the messaging experience,” but didn’t specify interoperability.

RELATED: Cross-carrier RCS JV effort shuts down

Miller said he believes interoperability is the intent. “I think we all know that RCS’s real value is going to be in scale, and we believe that scale will be best accomplished if you have interoperability across the U.S.,” as well as more broadly across the globe.

RCS grew out of the GSMA, which is all about interoperable standards. The RCS initiative initially was known as joyn.

SMS is hanging in there because it offers a revenue stream, but “I believe that over time, that revenue stream will be overtaken by RCS” as brands discover it and understand how to use it. It’s also important that carriers enable interoperability, “so that you can get access to the whole of the 300 million subscribers in the United States, not just a third of them,” Miller said.

‘Multi-dimensional war’

Seeing the writing on the wall, Google may be taking care of the interoperability issue.

“Is RCS a better solution than SMS and MMS? Yes,” said industry analyst Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics. The problem is Apple accounts for half the U.S. device market and it’s not playing ball because it’s not in its best interest, he said. Keeping users tied to the iMessage system helps it keep consumers within the Apple ecosystem.

In the rest of the world, where Apple has far less market share, Google is dominating because it makes its messaging app available and Google does the connecting. “You don’t need the carrier anymore for interoperability,” Entner said.

It’s only a “problem” in the U.S. because the carriers decided to offer text messaging for free. In Europe and elsewhere, carriers were very “revenue-conscious” and continued to charge for SMS. As a result, everybody went to WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. In many countries, WhatsApp is by far the dominant messaging service, Entner noted. 

From a global perspective, RCS for Google becomes a weapon not against Apple or the carriers but against Facebook. “You have a multi-dimensional war, and we’re a sideshow,” Entner said. “The war is not happening here;” it’s just a variation of it. “You have to look at, in a way, at a global perspective. That’s the challenge.”

The difference between Synchronoss and Mavenir, which provides the RCS hardware, is the carrier buys the service from the vendors and can then make money selling to brands. The model Google has been offering is to provide RCS for free; it will do the advertising and share a portion of the money. But does that mean carriers are leaving money on the table? "It’s not as big as it could be if you would sell it. That plays a role here,” Entner said. 

Synchronoss: In with the new

Synchronoss offers a messaging platform that enables RCS message delivery on behalf of a brand to a consumer. It also has an on-boarding tool, which it calls the Message Market Place, that allows brands to register, sign up for campaigns and get validated that, in fact, they’re the brand represented.

That same tool provides the carriers, which oversee who’s using the RCS network, to greenlight and initiate campaigns once they’ve validated the credentials. “It really helps enable that RCS messaging ecosystem” and then brands can speak to individuals and consumers can speak to brands, Miller said. “We think that is something that will begin to grow speed and adoption in the U.S., as we’ve seen it elsewhere in the world.”

What’s happening now in the U.S. is actually more like the business model in Japan, where Synchronoss has worked with KDDI, NTT DoCoMo and SoftBank on what it considers a successful RCS deployment. In Japan, Synchronoss interacts with them as a group and individually on their go-to-market and marketing plans. “That is more the model that actually now is emerging here in the United States, and it’s a model that we know can be successful,” he said.

Here’s one example of how it works. An airline would notify the consumer that it’s time to check in for a flight. Instead of going to a hyper link that takes her to a website, the consumer stays in the messaging app and gets a more web-like experience. She can confirm her seat, book a rental car and get a key for the hotel, all in the same place rather than jumping around to different websites. 

“This is a lot better than a 160-character limitation that I can see in a text message with a hyper link. They [SMS messages] seem quite antiquated in today’s 5G economy, but that’s the best way we have to communicate with messaging. I think we can do better and I think RCS will enable that, which is why we’ve been a proponent for many years,” Miller said.