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RCS deployments are still happening at a pace that is quite frankly frustrating for industry observers who have seen the technology fail to thrive after past launch attempts, and Google, too, seems frustrated. RCS is Google's last-ditch attempt to successfully develop an enhanced messaging app for the Android ecosystem. On June 17, it announced that it will provide RCS services directly to Android users in the UK and France by the end of June and in other countries by the end of the year. This announcement essentially means that Google is pushing the telcos aside to get RCS into the hands of Android users.

Figure 1: Demand for RCS in the UK is high – Google is simply catering to thisDemand for RCS in the UK is high  Google is simply catering to this

Source: Ovum

Clearly, telcos will not be in favor of Google running with what was intended to be a telco service, but, in Ovum's view, Google is right to take this step. Data from Ovum's Digital Consumer Insights 2019 survey shows that certainly in the UK, there is consumer demand for RCS – at the moment. But the penetration of chat apps in the UK is notable and growing: Facebook Messenger has 24% penetration, WhatsApp has 21%, and iMessage has 13%. The question is, how much longer will the demand for RCS last?

Very soon, these chat apps are going to have so much of a network effect (as seen in countries such as South Africa, where Ovum's Digital Consumer Insights 2019: Communications and Media survey shows that 95% of consumers are using a messaging app on their mobile phones) that it will be much harder for RCS to break into the market. Of course, RCS will be able to take advantage of being the default messaging service on Android phones – much in the same way that iMessage is switched on by default on iPhones – but this will only go so far. You can lead a consumer to water, but you can't make them drink.

It is not all bad news for the operators, though. Google has said that where a telco offers RCS, that service will be the one offered to its users. This means that telcos that have not yet launched RCS will have a user base built up by Google when they eventually do, and possibly a selection of businesses that are already using A2P RCS in that market, although the challenge will then be wrestling those A2P revenues away from Google.

So now that Google is muscling in on the flagship telco messaging service, how will telcos react? And where does that put the GSMA? With Google a major supporter of RCS, and the GSMA being the trade body for operators, it is likely caught between a rock and a hard place. Henry Calvert, Head of Future Networks at the GSMA, told Ovum, "The GSMA is supporting the industry in the rollout of fully interoperable RCS services. To date there have been almost 80 launches and are approximately 300 million users. Google's service will help consumers get access to RCS services sooner in markets where operators have not yet launched. There are already a large number of operators offering RCS services worldwide without this."

Certainly, this move will not make telcos trust Google any more. This will benefit vendors such as Mavenir, which can use its RCS Cloud Platform to roll out RCS quickly, and which, more importantly, is not Google. It is also likely to result in telcos reconsidering whether they want to roll out cloud-based platforms quickly or wait to build out their own infrastructure and launch in a much longer time frame. Or, indeed, whether they want to launch RCS at all.

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