By Cassandra Balentine
Short messaging services (SMS) and multimedia messaging services (MMS) have been the standard in texting for the past decade. As we enter a new era of technology supported by the next generation of users, text-based mobile communications play a larger role. Rich communications services (RCS) represents the latest in text-based mobile communications.
Erik Katz, co-founder/COO, Wrinkl, describes RCS as an improvement to dated SMS technology. It is a dynamic, web-based group messaging platform he believes is the future.
“RCS gives a richer, more natural and more engaging experience than SMS and MMS do. It’s more aligned with today’s messaging needs and can support a much broader set of features. It will not only improve messaging conversations between people, but also empower customers to have conversations with businesses and things such as chatbots. Customers will also be able to use their messaging application (app) to complete tasks like checking the news, weather, and sports scores; check-in for a flight; or shop. This will all be done with an experience that previously would have required downloading separate apps,” shares Robert Boyanovsky, VP enterprise mobility, AT&T Business.
Messaging Evolution & Underlying Technology
Technology advancements and the latest consumer demands forge the future of communications.
Boyanovsky points out that as wireless carriers have moved to all-IP-based networks, RCS leverages the power of the IP network to enrich and expand the messaging experience, taking what has been great about SMS/MMS for over a decade—ubiquity, simplicity, and reliability—and modernizing the service to give businesses and customers more of what they want from messaging. This includes the ability to see when your message was delivered, read, and when someone is typing a reply, as well as the ability to send larger files than MMS.
According to Ramy Riad, senior product manager, RCS, 3Cinteractive, the changing dynamic of digital has created consumers that expect a rich, dynamic brand experience with every single interaction, and the native text messaging experience has been running on technology that is due for an upgrade. “Although mobile carriers have upgraded their networks to keep up with demand for data and smartphones, the SMS client technology also needs to evolve to enable new, rich functionality in the messaging experience. As a result, those within the mobile ecosystem have been working on developing the standards for RCS, which leverages data connectivity to deliver next-generation messaging features like high resolution images and videos, read receipts, suggested actions, and rich cards—all within the native messaging application on the device. RCS is essentially the evolution of SMS and MMS to a more dynamic and interactive messaging experience,” he explains.
Boyanovsky says a big step forward in the past few years has been the definition of standards and specifications for rich communications from the Group Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), a well-known industry standard setting body within the Industry. “AT&T is in full support of these global standards and is currently focused on aligning our RCS capabilities to comply with them. Adoption of the standards will help increase and improve the ways in which people and businesses communicate. This includes alignments on a Universal Profile standard, as well as Messaging as a Platform (MaaP).
Boyanovsky says the primary technology driver toward RCS is the focus on internet-driven and IP environments over circuit switch environments. It allows for more dynamic capabilities and fewer restrictions in what can be sent and received.
RCS is based on the Mobile Network Operator (MNO) IMS Core system. It relies on the Session Initiation Protocol within the MNO core network. “Over the past years, RCS started as a fragmented service regional support for different feature sets and implementation techniques,” explains Riad. “With the introduction of the RCS Universal Profile in June 2017, there is now a universally agreed upon profile that defines the features and implementation guidelines to facilitate interoperability across different MNOs in multiple regions. The Universal Profile also introduces the concept of an enriched Application to Person (A2P) experience, allowing enterprises to use the full potential of RCS to engage with their customers,” says Riad.
Boyanovsky says user adoption is simple and straightforward. “There is no longer a need to download multiple apps; instead, users gain direct access to a range of brands and services from within the messaging app itself. These standards are being worked through.”
In the future, Boyanovsky explains that as all operations move to the Universal Profile and more devices support the service, we’ll work to enable interoperability between providers so customers can have the advanced messaging experience when messaging with anyone on the network. “These standards are helping make this a reality across carriers, driving global adoption and interoperability,” he offers.
The integration of RCS provides several business benefits and provides additional potential.
“The average office worker receives more than 120 emails and spends upwards of seven hours per day managing their email account,” explains Katz. Further, he says millennials make up the largest segment of the workspace, compelling organizations to adopt texting and group chat for more immediate communications. “As such, SMS/RCS messaging has exploded in popularity. In fact, a recent survey but International Customer Management Institute revealed that 79 percent of companies believe customers want text messaging support. Further, another study disclosed that 80 percent of people use texting for business and 15 percent of respondents in that survey stated more than half of their text messages are sent or received for business purposes,” explains Katz. Yet, businesses remain pressed for a messaging solution that increases productivity and reduces information overload. “As such, companies are moving away from SMS/RCS in favor of web-based apps that address the problems of group messaging for business use, which include conversation perishability. “Today’s dynamic group messaging platforms like Wrinkl allow users to do things they didn’t think possible in group chat, let alone SMS/RCS,” he offers.
“First, they can leverage the ubiquity of the native messaging client—customers don’t need to download anything new and are already familiar with text messaging. Second, they don’t need to build anything new—brands can leverage the systems, data, and integrations they have already built for their ecommerce and in store retail experiences to create rich interactions with customers. Finally, they continue to own the conversation with customers rather than having a third party such as Facebook or What’s App in the middle. In addition, unlike today’s text messaging, RCS will allow brands to use their own color themes, logos, and brand information within the conversation,” explains Riad.
With the Universal Profile, customer benefits include the ability to have more robust group chats with more participants than currently supported by MMS group texts, as well as the ability to send and receive even larger files, comments Boyanovsky. With MaaP, businesses can benefit from increased engagement with customers leveraging chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) in a feature-rich experience in the customer’s native messaging app.
Boyanovsky says the primary benefits of RCS for business is more efficient and engaging communication—driving more effective collaboration within organizations as well as enhanced customer engagement. RCS enables businesses to leverage chatbots and AI to deliver complete workflows and transactions, enhanced with rich media via their customers’ native messaging app. Some examples of what businesses could do through RCS messaging include accepting payments, taking restaurant orders from a menu, or scheduling hotel stays in a calendar. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. This will all be done with an experience that previously would have required downloading separate apps.”
The potential of RCS in business is growing with the increased reliance on mobile communications.
The retail landscape continues to drive towards conversational commerce—frictionless, personalized engagements for customers that lead to valuable transactions for the brands. “Mobile is at the center of making these connections. SMS remains the world’s largest platform with 3.5 billion monthly active users. RCS has the advantage of being native to the device with nothing new to download so that potential reach is tremendous,” says Riad.
Boyanovsky points out that in this increasingly mobile world, RCS gives businesses the potential to reach customers where they are—on the go. “It gives more freedom to the customers, which is letting businesses reach out and grow their business in new ways. This type of conversational commerce makes business to business customer engagement much more natural,” he comments.
While RCS gains momentum with global operator launches and handset adoption, it will take some time for businesses to be able to scale reach. “During this transition phase the ecosystem will be fragmented and SMS fallback strategies will need to be part of RCS engagement strategies. Partners such as 3C are positioned to navigate these complexities,” comments Riad.
Additionally, the adoption of RCS differs by geography as it is reliant on handset/client upgrades along with the network rollouts. “As new Andriod devices rollout to the market they come preloaded with an RCS client replacing the existing SMS/MMS client, allowing users to have a unified inbox for all of their communication channels,” explains Riad. “As more networks roll out RCS and more devices get introduced in different geographical regions, we will see the adoption of RCS exponentially increase.”
RCS is supported by a variety of service providers.
For the past two years, 3C has worked side by side with the GSMA to develop the MaaP ecosystem and take part in developing the Universal Profile standards. During this time, the company has developed A2P RCS platform capabilities.
3C’s platform enables users to build comprehensive RCS workflows leveraging new feature-rich functionality enabled by RCS. Brands design and incorporate suggested replies within messages, rich cards containing high-quality images and actionable buttons, and rich carousels that engage customers with multiple offers. These features are built into messaging engagements with RCS-enabled devices—unlocking actionable, app-like experiences that fundamentally change how customers interact with brands in text messaging.
The 3C RCS Engagement Platform allows businesses to deliver powerful RCS messages to all customers on all supported devices without having to worry about implementation differences on a per-carrier/MaaP platform basis.
It also enables the creation of complex workflows that leverage the full functionality of RCS but also integrate into existing systems to utilize the consumer data that brands already rely on.
The platform also bridges the RCS/SMS gap during the transitional period, ensuring that brands can message customers with confidence, knowing that the message will display correctly, regardless of which technology the customer is on.
Additionally, it simplifies the creation and management of RCS assets used in campaign through an embedded RCS content management system.
AT&T began rolling out its RCS solution, Advanced Messaging, in late 2015 as a way to bring its customers new capabilities and experiences. According to Boyanovsky, customers can use the native messaging app on their phones, just like they always have, to send a message to another party. “If both parties are capable, customers get the advanced experience, including the ability to see when your message was delivered, read, and when someone is typing a reply. It also allows the transfer of larger files than what MMS would allow. And we’ll continue to bring enhancements beyond what we’ve launched so far, improving messaging conversations between people, as well as between businesses and their customers.”
Global cloud communications company Infobip recently leached RCS in partnership with Vodafone. The partnership is part of the GSMA RCS initiative, offering enterprises around the world a chance to upgrade business to consumer communications, build customer engagement, increase application downloads, and enhance the overall customer experience beyond the common business-to-consumer SMS campaign.
By using Infobip’s API, any enterprise can design RCS campaigns and enhanced messaging, including high resolution photo sharing, read receipts, group chats, and live video.
Wrinkl is dedicated to bringing clarity to workforce communications by consolidating fragmented and disparate communication into one manageable and efficient experience. It offers a patented communications platform that layers an easy-to-use group messaging interface with the ability to categorize and prioritize conversations. “This immediately surfaces the most relevant messages and enables users to quickly organize messages and get work done mid conversation without having to switch between apps or channels. So, gone are the days of wasting time sifting through emails, group chats, and texts for that one critical message you received—it’s prioritized, indexed, and in one place,” says Katz. He notes that the way we operate in the office is evolving and Wrinkl creates the framework to advance workforce communications by combining the speed and immediacy of group messaging and the performance of email.
Messaging continues to evolve. The next generation of consumers relies on mobile communications and expects an omni-channel experience from their selected providers. RCS is the next iteration of mobile messaging, providing a dynamic messaging experience.
Mar2018, Software Magazine