BARCELONA, Spain — Google is partnering with a myriad of mobile operators in a move to expedite the rollout of Rich Communication Services (RCS) on Android.
The partnership sees the Internet giant team up with a number of global and regional carriers, including América Móvil, Bharti Airtel Ltd, Deutsche Telekom, Globe Telecom, Millicom, Orange, Sprint, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, Telstra, Turkcell, Vodafone, and the wireless standards body GSMA.
“Operators have agreed to transition toward a common, universal profile based on the GSMA’s RCS specifications and an Android RCS client provided by Google in collaboration with operators and OEMs,” a press release issued during Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona reads.
For the uninitiated, RCS is an ongoing GSMA program designed to create cross-operator communications similar to SMS that bring additional features, such as group messaging, IP voice calls, and file-sharing — features you no doubt recognize from proprietary messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger. But while SMS works across operators, the aforementioned Internet messaging services don’t — and this is what Google et al are trying to address on Android.
In many ways, this move seems a little too late, given the traction that messaging platforms have achieved already. WhatsApp recently sailed past one billion monthly active users (MAUs), while Facebook Messenger is dancing close to that number itself. Plus, those services work across mobile platforms — Android and iOS, among others.
While RCS is by no means an Android-only initiative, the latest push by Google and friends is all about Android. Still, Android represents more than a billion users globally, and Google clearly states that this can be implemented by other operating systems too — though it will require Apple, Microsoft, and the others to sign up.
The goals of the latest Google-backed push are explained as follows:
By aligning on a universal RCS profile, mobile operators will be able to deploy a consistent RCS implementation, feature set, and configuration. The Android RCS client provided by Google will be based on the universal profile, enabling consumers to access RCS services on their devices. Features such as group chat, high-res photo sharing, read receipts, and more, will now become part of the operator messaging experience, enhancing the experience of over 4 billion SMS users worldwide. GSMA RCS advanced calling features will also be supported in the future by Google.
The profile and client will enable a consistent and interoperable messaging experience between all Android devices and across all operators worldwide, as well as ease interoperability testing between networks and significantly reduce time to market. The universal profile can be implemented by other operating systems and will be supported by a formal GSMA accreditation process. Google will also provide an open source version of the client based on the universal profile specification and will provide developer APIs to enhance the RCS client experience.
Today’s news comes five months after Google acquired Jibe Mobile, a startup that focuses on helping networks develop support for various messaging features into their services. It’s all about bringing SMS into the same realm as Internet-based messaging services, and this news is the clearest sign yet that Google is striving to catch up with the likes of Facebook — which owns two gargantuan messaging platforms in the form of Messenger and WhatsApp (and that’s without even mentioning Instagram).
“Messaging holds a central place in our lives, whether it’s coordinating a meet-up, sharing photos with friends, or sending thoughts to a loved one,” said Nick Fox, vice president of communications products at Google. “Today marks an important step forward in bringing a better messaging experience for Android users everywhere, and we’re thrilled to collaborate with our partners across the industry to make this happen.”
Mobile operators are able to deploy their own infrastructure around RCS, though, naturally, Google is offering its newly acquired Jibe platform for use too.