Operator RCS is the Fast and Easy Solution to the Digital Markets Act (DMA)

Connecting the Messaging Islands

The European Union Council and Parliament, recently reached a provisional agreement on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in an effort to make the digital sector fairer and more competitive.  A list of rules has been drafted for the ‘so called’ gatekeepers (targeting the likes of the Big Five tech giants Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft), one of which outlines the necessity of ensuring “interoperability of their instant messaging services’ basic functionalities”, the objective being to make all major messaging apps interoperable, highlighting the fragmentation of the messaging landscape.

OTT messaging means sending and receiving content over the internet, without the use of standard mobile network operator (MNO) messaging networks, for example iMessage, Signal, Whatsapp, Viber, etc. Today, OTT based messaging happens around closed communities, which are not interoperable and create multiple user islands where users need to create independent presence. Some communities use a phone number as the identifier while others use an email or user account. This creates an inconsistent user experience.

While governments debate about forcing private companies/gatekeepers to interoperate, Mobile Operators offer standard carrier messaging services (SMS) that are already available to connect consumers across these messaging islands. In addition, the operators now offer RCS (Rich Communication Service) which enables richer communication i.e. you are now able to send a message that includes anything you would be able to send over other OTT such as photos, video and have group conversation. With Google offering RCS in the Android Messages app, RCS also offers worldwide interoperability among Android devices and there is always the default fallback to SMS offering universality.

The global demand and adoption of RCS is expected to see exponential growth, which will only increase with the coming of 5G, here are few statistics published by GSMA and Mobilesquared.

  • The average app loses 77% of its users in the first 3 days and 95% after 90 days. In comparison, over 90% of SMS users remain active after 90 days, suggesting huge potential for RCS as a tool for consumer communications.
  • According to Mobilesquared, there are currently 183 mobile operators offering RCS-enabled services, with a potential user base of about 773 million. The research company expects those numbers to increase during the next few years, with an expected 472 service providers offering RCS-based services to about 3.3 billion potential users in 2025.
  • MobileSquared predicts the RCS channel will become a 1 billion user platform by the end of 2021 and by 2028, 3.7 billion of the 4.89 billion Android devices globally will be RCS users. This means brands will be able to reach 61% of all smartphone users via RCS.

Apple equivalent of RCS is iMessage, which is another closed system offering interoperability using SMS fallback. Apple has also developed Apple Business Chat (ABC) for iPhones, which is comparable to RCS Business Messaging. Supporting RCS will be the most viable option for Apple to opening up iMessage to all Android users, which will allow worldwide interoperability among all RCS capable devices.

Regional Operators are best suited to meet local regulatory requirements and thus the best path to DMA compliance for OTTs when fallback to RCS is implemented. When Operator’s carrier network-based RCS is used for conversation, there is always the default option of SMS fallback when the remote device is not RCS capable.

  • Standard Messaging Service (SMS) is on every phone
  • SMS continues to be a proven and trusted common denominator independent of type of phone. It is used for two-factor authentications, supported in IoT devices, device-management & configuration and various other legal requirements. It’s not going away. According to Mobilesquared[i], businesses have increased their use of SMS in 2020, with an average increase of 15.7% globally.
  • It is also possible to innovate and expand SMS capabilities (for example, by automatically converting a “thumbs up” or “heart” reaction to a “[liked/loved your message]” text. Additional innovation is needed over and above the current SMSC functionality.

Use of Operator’s carrier network-based RCS with SMS fallback option, provides OTT a neutral and most viable option for all OTT messaging applications for a fast route to compliance. If RCS interworking is adopted by all OTT messaging applications such as Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, Viber, etc, it will enable worldwide interoperability across OTT and carrier-based messaging platforms. There maybe concerns raised that forcing services like WhatsApp to interconnect with others might compromise the default end-to-end encryption that their users rely on.  While this a valid concern, there are enhancements being done which will ensure that end-to-end encryption will be default for all conversations. RCS within operator network is always fully encrypted, and similar encryption will be offered for any interworking. Google Messages also now support end to end encryption for one-to-one conversations.

Global interoperability offers openness and innovation, and RCS is the fastest route to that without undermining privacy and security concerns.

[i] Mobilesquared Global A2P SMS Databook Report 2017-2025 (July 2021)

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