Sprint, AT&T inch toward RCS-based joyn launches

Sprint (NYSE:S) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) both appear to be preparing their networks for a launch of RCS-based messaging services, which the GSMA and some European carriers are promoting through the "joyn" brand. However, it remains unclear exactly how Sprint and AT&T will launch their respective services, and whether they too will offer them under the "joyn" brand.

For its part, Sprint said it is planning to launch a service using the RCS 5.1 standard, which supports simultaneous video, voice, text and image messaging.

"Sprint supports the RCS standards, and we will be offering a service soon based on the RCS 5.1," said Sprint spokeswoman Kristin Wallace in response to questions from FierceWireless. Wallace declined to provide details.

AT&T too said it is moving toward supporting RCS services, but stopped short of specifically saying it would offer a service based on the technology. In a statement, the carrier said that it has been a "key player in defining GSMA RCS 5.1" and that the technology will, for example, allow users to share documents and photos simultaneously during calls, regardless of the network or device used.

"AT&T is uniquely positioned to take advantage of GSMA RCS 5.1 services because of our experience with IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and because of commitment to the 3GPP family of technologies including HSPA+ and LTE," AT&T said in response to questions from FierceWireless. "We look forward to further interoperability testing within the carrier community as we move towards commercial readiness."

And what of Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), the nation's largest carrier? A spokeswoman said the operator is gearing up for its 2014 launch of Voice over LTE technology and would discuss its plans for RCS technology at that time.

News that Sprint and AT&T appear to be moving forward with RCS-based services comes as a bit of a surprise, considering the criticism leveled at the RCS-based, joyn-branded services currently available from a variety of European wireless carriers. For example, European analyst Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis for years has been an outspoken critic of RCS-based services from wireless operators, arguing that they represent a futile attempt by operators to recover some of the SMS revenues lost to over-the-top messaging providers like WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Messenger and others.

Indeed, earlier this year Bubley noted that "RCS has shambled on as an undead Zombie technology … and we've still got a few lonely operators kicking over its rotting corpse at the moment."

Nonetheless, operators in Europe continue to push forward with the technology: Telefónica is promoting its Tu Go unified communications service, while Orange maintains its Libon OTT app has a bright future.

Interestingly, RCS-based joyn was introduced in the United States earlier this year by prepaid wireless carrier MetroPCS, prior to its purchase by T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS). However, it's unclear what T-Mobile will do with MetroPCS' joyn-branded service: "We are evaluating future plans for RCS and do not have any updates at this time," a MetroPCS spokesman said in response to questions from FierceWireless, noting that joyn is currently only available on MetroPCS' legacy CDMA/LTE smartphones and not the new phones the carrier is selling that are compatible with T-Mobile's HSPA+ and LTE network.

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