How Apple is holding back rich communication services

The topic of rich communication services (RCS) doesn’t get discussed much in the wireless industry. And if we do touch on it, it’s usually about the backend systems that support RCS. For instance, earlier this month Google said that AT&T was migrating its RCS backend for Android phones to Google’s Jibe platform. Of course, Google owns the Android operating system, so it makes sense to have Google handle the RCS backend, as well, for Android phones.

Mavenir had been competing for business, serving the backend of RCS systems. But in January the company laid off some employees and attributed it to a significant reduction in RCS Network Systems demand.

Mavenir CEO Pardeep Kohli said at the time, “Based on policies of companies that control the Android ecosystem, the RCS client on the Android phones is now limited to work with only one dedicated backend.”

Recently Fierce Wireless spoke with an RCS expert, Inderpal Singh Mumick, CEO of Dotgo. Dotgo and its parent company Gupshup provide RCS messaging services for businesses.

Mumick said there have been a few providers of RCS backend services, such as Mavenir, but he added that, “In Europe almost all operators have standardized on Google. I would say the battle has been won by Google.”

What does RCS provide?

RCS is the messaging standard established by the GSMA. From a global perspective, India, Brazil and Mexico comprise 60% of RCS users, with the EU slightly ahead of the U.S.

Many people, at least in the U.S., seem content with iMessage if they have an iPhone or Messages if they have an Android phone. But if an iPhone is communicating to an Android phone, then those two platforms don’t talk to each other and the chat reverts to simple messaging service (SMS).

Mumick envisions a world where messaging is consistent and “rich” for everyone.

Asked how RCS is “richer” than SMS, Mumick gave a couple of examples. He said RCS can allow people to get an airline boarding pass directly in their message, rather than having to click a separate link. Or for businesses, RCS allows them to do things like ecommerce transactions, without having to send people to a separate application.

He said RCS also has a much higher allowance for text characters – 4,000 characters. And in addition to text, it can include multiple images, videos, and buttons to click, all within the message and without having to go to an app or a separate web browser.

RCS also includes a couple of features such as the ability to see if your text was delivered, whether it was read, and whether your friend is typing. These features are also familiar to iPhone and Android users. But again, they only work when people have the same type of phone.

Why won’t Apple adopt RCS?

So far, Apple has not been willing to switch from its proprietary iMessage platform to the RCS standard. Apple says its iMessage platform has the best security. But there could also be competitive business reasons at play.

There’s some cachet among teenagers to have an iPhone. When iPhone users are chatting with each other, the messages show up in a blue bubble, which is considered a status symbol by some. “There’s a lot of peer pressure to get iPhones,” said Mumick.

There’s also the fact that the coveted blue bubbles differentiate iPhones from Android.

But Mumick said, “The whole RCS ecosystem today somehow gets synonymized with Google. But RCS is a GSMA standard adopted by Google.”

In terms of security he said, “For Apple their angle is to make their service secure. One way to do that is with end-to-end encryption. But when your friend is on Android your message is not encrypted. It is easy to fix that by taking the RCS standard and building support for that in the Apple platform.”

At a 2022 Apple event, a reporter in the audience said his mother was an Android user and it was difficult to share photos with her. He asked Apple CEO Tim Cook when Apple will support RCS. Cook told the reporter to get his mother an iPhone.

Mumick said the ongoing refusal of Apple to adopt RCS has resulted in a boon for private messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram.