Messaging has undergone a massive change with the arrival of new platforms, from WhatsApp and Messenger to WeChat. And the latest one to rock this space in India is the Rich Communication Services (RCS), which is said to be an answer to the government’s localisation problems. It has often been called SMS 2.0 and close to Apple’s iMessage. To discuss more about the RCS and how it can be a feasible replacement for instant messaging apps, Ramesh Kumar Raja talked to Rajdip Gupta, MD and Group CEO of Route Mobile, a cloud communication platform provider for over the top players (OTT) and mobile network operators (MNO). Excerpts:
How do you look at the trend of messaging in India?
The A2P (application-to-person) messaging is going to touch 7.4 billion messages daily by 2022 and the number of smartphone users in India is predicted to leap by 2022, there will be 829 million smartphone users in India. As per GSMA, there are greater than 300 million active users of RCS (Rich Communication Services) and it is set to have a market worth of $74 billion by 2021. The GSMA report reveals that there is a consumer-driven demand for different types of messaging, over 51 per cent of them expect 24/7/365 answers and service from businesses. It is an exciting time for the messaging industry.
Currently, the market is divided between SMS, different OTT providers and RCS. The user base for major IP messaging services is predicted to exceed 4 billion users globally and will provide opportunities for operators to innovate and offer new messaging services for enterprises and deliver more promising outcomes for end-users as they have done for RCS.
As AI chatbot technology matures, it will make customer service intuitive, personalised and more chat-based than before. Customers will interact with banks, e-commerce sites, airlines, railways, utility providers, restaurants, etc. using a single advanced messaging application. A reputed research report predicted that by 2020, 85 per cent of customer interactions will be managed without a human and the AI chatbots will play a key role in that transformation.
Future will see aggregators providing enhanced advanced messaging with chatbots and plugins to deliver the richer experience to consumers while giving enterprises to take advantage of the direct nature of application-to-person (A2P) IP messaging in future.
The recent WhatsApp snoopgate row has brought to light the ugly picture of an instant messaging platform that how one’s data is not secure. What’s your take on it?
The biggest market for WhatsApp is in India with over 200 million users which sometimes crosses 300 million. Digital transformation has always come with a risk of data security and any messenger platform can be a target of such an advanced attack, however, unfortunately, Whatsapp was targeted as it is the most popular messenger in India and almost every Indian has a WhatsApp application installed on their smartphone. Whatsapp Business Solutions is working to upgrade its encryption feature with Nasscom and the central government.
What needs to be done to ensure such sort of incidents never happen again? Is data localization the solution to it?
Data localisation is one of the solutions, not the only solution. As the data travels over an operator network, it stays within the country’s border and within its jurisdiction of laws. With other messaging apps, the data travels through a company’s servers, thereby crossing the country’s borders and making it out of reach of its legal jurisdiction.
There’s a lot of buzz around Rich Communication Services. Do you think it’ll be a game-changer in an industry where the majority of people use Android smartphones?
As of 2019, Android holds 91 per cent share of the smartphone operating system market in India and almost 75 per cent worldwide, which makes a serious game-changer, not only for the Android users but also for the iOS users, as it will offer stiff competition to iMessage.
In the past, iMessage had been a strong contender that has swayed Android users to iOS systems. RCS has features similar to iMessage, such as rich message texting and sending and receiving messages use cellular data. This also makes it possible to send a message via Wi-Fi if your mobile data signal is low, or if you are low on data. RCS provides even more finesse in terms of cloud communication for business as compared to iMessage and has serious advantages over it. Previously, iMessaging was a gold standard in messaging.
As RCS has a universal profile in India, it will work with any phone, although Apple will need to include this support on devices. Google has even bought Jibe Mobile and is using the Jibe Cloud platform. This has helped Google enable carriers to launch RCS quickly.
|“RCS has features similar to iMessage, such as rich message texting and sending and receiving messages use cellular data. This also makes it possible to send a message via Wi-Fi if your mobile data signal is low, or if you are low on data. RCS provides even more finesse in terms of cloud communication for business as compared to iMessage and has serious advantages over it”|
Can you please tell us about the technicalities involved and how RCS is going to impact other platforms?
Owing to the technological challenges and rigidness involved in developing a medium as efficient yet simple as that of an SMS, RCS began its journey at a steady pace. Considering the need of having a two-way communication process, RCS Business Messaging is the answer that addresses all the limitations of traditional one-way messaging. It is an enhancement to an SMS as it comes with an SMS fallback mechanism if the message is not delivered. Unlike SMS, it is not limited to 160 characters.
OTT messaging services have now become platforms to introduce and monetise new services, such as music, gaming and payments that are enhanced by the use of chatbots and AI. WeChat and Kakkao are such examples in Asia. RCS supports Google Pay in selected regions and other popular third-party payment options which will lead to faster checkout which in turn will lead to a higher conversion rate.
RCS is more like an open platform supported by a complex ecosystem, which is collaborative and competitive at the same time and offers the same benefits as SMS in terms of guaranteed message delivery, secure connection, extremely low latency, regulatory compliance, and much more.
Unlike popular OTT apps, RCS’ commercial models do not monetize user data to enable targeted advertising.
Does RCS hold any importance to iPhones/iOS as well, especially considering its very own messaging platform?
The RCS partnership with Samsung and Android messages provides a successful means for cloud and business messaging, which puts in direct competition with Apple’s iMessage which has its perks over the complicated messaging involved across Android phones. However, RCS also has certain serious advantages over iMessage. If Apple joins hands with RCS messaging, there will be a unified messaging standard across all handsets and wireless carriers. It would be seamless for brands and software providers as they would have a single standard type of message to every subscriber instead of creating two separate experiences of separately structured texts. Currently, although the content is the same, the difference lies in the structure of the message. It depends on how Apple or RCS wants that structure to look like on its mobile phones.
RCS has a universal profile that was launched in India in 2016, which makes it flexible on any mobile device, while the same is not with iOS. As long as the wireless provider, device manufacturer, and operating system support the feature, messages can be shared using this new standard, unlike iOS.
Since RCS is mostly said to be about business communication, how relevant it is for a general smartphone users?
The industry has been constantly working for over a decade on RCS protocol. Google has finally come out and decided to give the Rich communication experience to over a billion Android users by rolling out its RCS protocol that will let users experience features like group chat functionality, high-res attachments, typing indicators etc for P2P (person-to-person) communications. Features like carousels-suggested replies, rich cards and more such A2P features for enterprises/brands are enabled on the beta version of Android messages as well. Currently, to experience RCS, the Android users have to update their Android Messaging Client which is nothing but the messages app to the beta version from the Play Store.
It lets users chat with their contacts and exchange high-resolution images, GIFs, emoji, stickers, videos and audio messages from within the chat session. It also allows users to send and receive messages over Wi-Fi or mobile data — unlike traditional SMS messages that require cellular network connectivity. Just like SMS, RCS uses mobile number as the identifier for the recipient.
|“Google has finally come out and decided to give the Rich communication experience to over a billion Android users by rolling out its RCS protocol that will let users experience features like group chat functionality, high-res attachments, typing indicators etc for P2P communications. Features like carousels-suggested replies, rich cards and more such A2P features for enterprises/brands are enabled on the beta version of Android messages as well”|
Route Mobile recently joined hands with Google to bring RCS in India. What’s the way forward plan?
RCS is the future of messaging and this association will showcase innovative approach, enhance the momentum for various industries, towards advanced messaging and accelerate the awareness of next-generation technology in India.
What’s your expectation and what’re the challenges with regard to RCS in India? Has it the potential to disrupt the messaging landscape over here?
RCS supports all Android devices in India. Currently, Vodafone, Airtel and Jio are the three major service providers which will support RCS in India. However, Reliance Jio has already introduced RCS services to its customers. It has brought LTE-quality RCS voice services to about 100 million customers in less than six months with JioCall, which turned out to be the largest RCS active user base across the globe.
Any Android smartphone user on any telecom operator can now opt for RCS. When RCS, having a Universal Profile, was launched in 2016, about two OS makers, 47 mobile operators, and 11 smartphone makers came forward to support it. All Android users can now install RCS within few minutes.
Although most major national carriers are on board, the interoperability with a few carriers is still pending. Even though RCS has a universal profile in India, phones need to have this support but most of them don’t have, which has slowed down the implementation.
The future will see RCS go completely app less and consumers in India using it for payments, customer support and much more. For example, Uber will not need an app, all transactions can happen on RCS. Chatting with a friend or a relative will be a similar experience to chatting via RCS for a car booking company.
An entire customer journey can be mapped with RCS:
- Allows users to chat directly with the driver, sending pick up messages, make purchases, upgrades, or changes via a simple, yet rich chat experience
- Provides a self-service option that is available round-the-clock.
- Find a driver in a nearby location or track the location of the driver via maps.
- Sends location-based personalised responses, guided navigation, delivering notifications and advice that is suited to the user’s needs and preference via suggested actions and replies via a chatbot. Thus, RCS gets a faster query resolution through guidance at every step than with an app.
- Facilitates digital payment transactions as RCS is integrated with third-party payment apps such as Google Pay and Paypal.
From a UX point of view, users would not like to go to a third screen and open an app. It is a lot of work when everything can be done on their regular native messaging app via RCS. Users do not want to download multiple apps for every brand when all this can be done within the native messaging on mobile with new technology.