China’s big 3 telcos offer 5G Rich Communication Services (RCS)

China’s big three telecom carriers unveiled a new 5G-enabled messaging service on Wednesday, which analysts said is likely to open a new era for social networking.

China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom published a white paper for the 5G messaging service, known as Rich Communication Services, or RCS,.  The paper specifies technical details to invite smartphone makers to support the new service.

The 5G RCS messaging service is designed to replace current short messages with a system that is richer, provides phonebook polling, and can transmit in-call multimedia.

5G may facilitate a shift away from basic SMS messaging, ushering in an era of RCS, where mobile messaging can become much more interactive and flexible, more akin to what we now know as iMessaging through platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. RCS will not only facilitate the sharing of GIFs and high-quality videos, but will also more directly interface with the internet; for example, offering a list of available flights when the user sends a message regarding a holiday.

Editor’s Note:

RCS has been talked about and in development for many years, with very little commercial market acceptance to date.  RCS’ biggest problem has been that it requires consensus across a large and complex industry.  Contrast that with an OTT messaging startup with a dozen staff can create a viral global app overnight.  It remains to be see if the collaboration between China’s big three telecom operators will make 5G RCS successful in China.

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With the new 5G RCS message service, consumers won’t have to download a variety of mobile apps. They can directly buy train tickets and book flights by sending messages.

Ma Jihua, an independent telecom analyst, said the new 5G-powered messaging service, if properly promoted, will usher in a new era of social networking, and erode the social networking business of Tencent Holdings Ltd.

A pedestrian walks past a 5G promotion board in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province. [Photo by Su Yang/For China Daily]

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China Telecom Vice President Wang Guoquan said the new 5G messaging services would enhance 5G innovation and help turn 5G from “the biggest variable affecting the telecom industry” into the biggest vehicle for growth.

He said China Telecom would work with industry partners “to build a new ecosystem and promote the rapid development of rich media information.”

Besides the three operators, 11 device vendors including Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and Samsung endorsed the new messaging service and promised early support on their handsets.  Huawei stated that it would have an RCS-capable phone this June, while Xiaomi has confirmed that all of its new 5G phones will also run the new messaging service.

“Together with ecosystem partners, we will start a new chapter in 5G messaging and further promote RCS applications in China,” said a statement from the three operators releasing the paper.

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GSMA says the key development has been the creation of the universal profile (UP), an industry-agreed set of features intended to simplify RCS product development and deployment.

The Chinese players can also take heart from the positive numbers out of the first two years of the RCS-based +Message service in Japan, supported by all three operators.

User numbers rose 35% to 17.5 million in 2019 and are forecast to hit 40 million in 2021, according to a GSMA-commissioned study.

The number of business messages sent over the platform is expected to reach more than 150 million in 2021 and 1.2 billion in 2023.

What’s more, users appear responsive to the marketing messages. The open rate is 85% in Japan and 75% globally, compared to 3% for direct mail.

Says the GSMA: “+Message also allows Japanese consumers to communicate directly with a range of brands and services, for example allowing them to engage with virtual assistants to book flights, buy goods and make restaurant reservations.”

Worldwide, the GSMA says 88 operators have launched RCS, attracting 403 million users.

Messaging research firm MobileSquared has predicted that RCS will be the world’s biggest business messaging platform by 2021, with 2 billion users. The firm notes that while WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) has 1.5 billion users, it may be difficult to monetize it as a marketing channel because users are required to opt in.

References:

http://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202004/08/WS5e8d67aea310aeaeeed50c6a.html

https://www.lightreading.com/asia/china-operators-to-offer-rcs-based-5g-messaging/d/d-id/758762?

https://www.totaltele.com/505475/Chinese-operators-back-RCS-in-new-white-paper

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