Zipcast Episode 16: The State of RCS Messaging and Takeaways from Mobile World Congress

MWC Mobile World Congress 2019 Los Angeles

RCS messaging got its groove back.

After years of delays, RCS is gaining momentum for 2020. Its development is so exciting for business communication that both Zipwhip’s CTO and CMO declared it one of their biggest takeaways from Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles.

In this podcast episode, Zipwhip CMO Scott Heimes and CTO James Lapic sit down to discuss their most exciting takeaways from October’s Mobile World Congress. You’ll get to hear their thoughts on the trends of business communication from both a marketing and technical perspective.

Scott and James cover:

  • The evolution of RCS and how countries like Japan and Canada are planning to implement it
  • How a texting business directory could brand every mobile customer interaction
  • The potential of 5G, AI and AR/VR for business texting
  • And more!

Tune in each month for the latest episodes of Zipcast. Don’t forget to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. If you have a suggestion for the show, feel free to text us at (347) 772-3529 or email zipcast@zipwhip.com.

Read on for an update on RCS Messaging in the mobile industry:

What is RCS?

For those of us who need a refresher, RCS stands for Rich Communication Services. It’s a messaging protocol that builds off SMS, incorporating rich features like carousel cards, read receipts, group chats, high-fidelity photos and videos, maps, and more. The protocol was first formed in 2007, but suffered a lot of stops and starts in its development.

Learn more about RCS here.

What changed?

One of the greatest barriers for RCS messaging was carrier participation. With so many features, it’s critical for carriers to agree on its implementation so that it can be used across networks.

On October 24, the major U.S. carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon announced a joint venture to deliver Rich Communication Services (RCS) to consumers and businesses. They call it the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI).

The CCMI plans to develop and deploy RCS in 2020, starting with Android phones. Meanwhile, Apple continues to develop Business Chat for iOS.

TL;DR: RCS Messaging is like SMS 2.0 and will create richer experiences for consumers texting brands. The major U.S. carriers have signed on to a joint venture to start developing and deploying RCS in 2020.

Episode Transcript:

Scott Heimes: Welcome to the Zipcast, where we talk about the latest trends in Texting for Business, customer communication strategies and technology. I’m your host, Scott Heimes, chief marketing officer at Zipwhip, and thanks for tuning in.

Scott Heimes: Zipwhip recently attended Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles. This is the world’s largest exhibition for the wireless phone industry, and it’s an important trade show for the industry and for Zipwhip. We went to get our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in messaging, communication and technology. James Lapic, Zipwhip’s chief technology officer, was there and so was I. Today we’re going to talk through our key takeaways from Mobile World Congress to help you better understand how current mobile trends are affecting the messaging industry. Stick around to learn more.

Scott Heimes: Welcome to the Zipcast, James.

James Lapic: Thanks for having me, Scott. Appreciate it.

Scott Heimes: It’s great to have you here. Tell us again about your background and your role here at Zipwhip.

James Lapic: Been at Zipwhip since the beginning, my current role is CTO, so I basically interact and figure out the technological strategy as it relates to the messaging industry for Zipwhip. I know we’re going to talk about some exciting stuff today about our trip to Mobile World Congress, and that’s usually a big time for me to go figure out what to take from that to weave into Zipwhip.

Scott Heimes: Got it. We’re doing something a little different today. Rather than me as the host interviewing you, we’re both going to discuss our takeaways from Mobile World Congress, because I was there as well.

James Lapic: Well, that’s great. Maybe you should tell us about you, Scott.

Scott Heimes: Well, I’m the Chief Marketing Officer here at Zipwhip, and I’ve been in the SaaS marketing business for a long time, previously at SendGrid, and at WebMD and Digital River before that. Here to help us create brand awareness for Zipwhip, as well as drive qualified leads in the hands of the sales team and help drive our self-service business.

Scott Heimes: Okay. We both went to Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles last week. In the case our listeners don’t know what it is, what is Mobile World Congress?

James Lapic: Mobile World Congress, it’s a show put on by GSMA, and if you don’t know what GSMA is, GSMA is the global forum that basically puts together all the standards and whatnot for the mobile industry, everything from how towers are erected, all the way down to the protocols used to make it all work on the phones. The show is actually pretty interesting. It’s evolved quite a bit. They have a very large show. I think it’s one of the biggest shows in the world. They do it in Barcelona every year. Then, a few years ago, they actually merged with a U.S. policy company called CTIA, and they brought it to the U.S. This is, I believe, our fourth one on our home turf, which is pretty cool. It’s a little smaller than Barcelona, but nonetheless, it brings together everybody in the industry. We represent the messaging side of the industry there, but frankly, there’s everybody there, from the guys building towers, all the way to the guys selling connectors. It’s kind of everything in between, but for us, very important on the messaging side.

Scott Heimes: Got it. Tell me some of the takeaways that you saw at the show. What stood out for you, in terms of interesting stuff?

James Lapic: You know, having gone to this show in some form or another for most of my adult life, it’s a lot of trends over time that we see that continue to evolve, a lot of excitement over 5G, still. I was amazed that over a third of the floor was still talking about IoT and things, but frankly, I think the most important thing to me is the continued evolution of RCS. RCS is kind of the next version, it’s a 2.0 almost, of SMS, the thing we’ve all known and loved forever. It’s been years of evolution, because you have to get every carrier in the world to upgrade and change, so it’s not something you can do overnight, but year over year, it’s been incredibly exciting to see what people are doing with it. Now we’re starting to see a lot of stuff in the wild, like actual things being done with it with real consumers, so it’s pretty exciting.

Scott Heimes: Yeah, I was really impressed with the momentum of RCS compared to last year. I thought there was a lot more activity and energy even around it than last year. For example, we saw at the GSMA messaging lab, which was the day before the show, Vodafone coming out and talking about having 16 different markets in Europe lit up for RCS today. IMI has 35 different programs in the field, around RCS, around the world. Synchronoss is doing all kinds of exciting stuff in Japan and some other countries. There feels like there’s this building momentum around RCS.

James Lapic: Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting, because what we’re starting to see now is that, a lot of the feedback I’d got was, people were starting to get it in their hands now, in terms of, there’s actually customers using it, businesses using it to engage their customers. A lot of the conversations I had there were around, how do we bridge the gap to RCS from where we are now? That’s where I think a lot of what we do on the business texting side is a perfect hand in glove, into that step where we can go use RCS when it’s available and fall back to SMS.

James Lapic: We had a lot of really interesting conversations along those lines, but if you really look at it, there’s some really cool interactions that we’re going to be able to bring to our customers with RCS around just adding things as simple as an “is typing” signal to see if the person on the other end is actually responding in real time, to go and be able to send a picture or video that’s high fidelity. Incredibly exciting. We have so many use cases where a megabyte is not enough to go send what you need to do over picture or video, and so the possibility of RCS is super exciting.

James Lapic: The penetration rate is still not fantastic. I know you had some excitement about some of the penetration since last year. I know it’s gone up.

Scott Heimes: Yeah, it’s getting better, but it’s still somewhere in the 10% range in the U.S., just for Android phones. That doesn’t include iPhones, which, Apple is pursuing a separate strategy competitive with RCS called Apple Business Chat. It feels like it’s going to be a long time before we have the kind of reach and universality that we have with SMS to that.

James Lapic: The one thing I feel that’s become very clear to me in the last few years around RCS, is that SMS isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, specifically because, I don’t think we’re ever going to have something as ubiquitous globally as SMS ever again maybe. The protocol, very powerful but also very simple to implement for carriers. It was very globally adopted. I think with RCS, what you get is, it’s so feature-rich that you have to get everybody to agree on how to interconnect and do it the right way. Like you mentioned, Apple is not playing with it right now. They’ve got their own take on it. You’re going to have kind of a fractured way.

James Lapic: For us on the software side, it’s fine for our customers because we can go weave in the right experience for the customer that they’re talking to, but I don’t think we’re going to have that completely ubiquitous thing and that beauty that we have on SMS. It’s a little frustrating, but on the other hand, I think it’s a little bit of just the times we’re in, of technology changing so fast.

Scott Heimes: Yeah. That’s 100% true. Some countries are pursuing different strategies, though, to try and create that sort of ubiquity experience. Japan for example, as I understand it –

James Lapic: Yeah.

Scott Heimes: The carriers are trying to collaborate together to try and launch a nationwide RCS network. Canada is another example that we’re actually involved in.

James Lapic: We are very involved with Canada. I think what’s interesting about Canada, so GSMA, they have a world map that they’ve put up basically every year when we’ve been to these seminars. It’s basically labeling every country in different colors. Gold is the color they give to a standard where every carrier in a country has adopted, and Canada, we believe, is going to be the first gold country in North America, where all three of the major carriers in Canada are planning to have RCS rolled out in basically the same way. Like you said, it’s only in Android phones, but nonetheless, we’re going to have reach into all three carriers. The reality is, if you can’t get it to all carriers, it doesn’t really make as big of a difference.

James Lapic: We’re very excited about that. We’re partnered with all the carriers in Canada. We’re planning on doing some pilots with them. I know there’s some really interesting opportunities there to go and showcase that as a gold country, which we’re very excited about.

Scott Heimes: One of the unique things about Canada specifically, and just doing an RCS network across an entire country like that, is a concept of a business directory, where businesses have identity inside of the texting network, and consumers can understand who’s texting them and have, over time, awareness being built about that relationship.

James Lapic: Yeah. What’s really neat about RCS is that every interaction you have with the business is branded. If you go look in your messaging client, it’s going to say, hey, I’m talking to this business. It has the name, it has the logo, has a little hero shot at the top when you first interact with it. It’s very rich, in terms of brand awareness around who you’re engaging with. Then, depending on the carrier and the implementation, there’ll also be a directory that would be on the phone, where you can actually go look up … There’s even some thoughts around how you can maybe pay to put your name on top of somebody else’s name in that directory and things. I think that ecosystem is going to evolve greatly over the next few years. It’s incredibly powerful. What we’ve seen on business texting – business messaging – is that it’s so engaging and so powerful that I think layering that directory and that brand on top will make it even that much stickier.

Scott Heimes: Fascinating stuff. What else did you see at the show? 5G was all over the place.

James Lapic: Yeah, I know we were talking about 5G before. It seems like every show, it gets more and more momentum. Why do you think that’s exciting? I know why I think it’s exciting, Scott. Why are you excited about 5G?

Scott Heimes: Well, from a marketing perspective, 5G, as I understand it, it’s going to offer almost 10 times the bandwidth, and as much speed increase as well. The idea of being able to download videos in seconds rather than minutes, be able to do rich interactive experiences across internet connectivity, is pretty exciting.

James Lapic: I totally agree. I think that it’s going to change the way, the same way the smartphone kind of changed the way people engage with the internet, I think this will be the next way that people are engaging with things. It’s almost instantaneous downloads. You’re not worrying about bandwidth. That’s why we’re excited. Doesn’t totally play into or affect RCS and SMS that much, but just being kind of a mobile geek, very exciting.

Scott Heimes: Although I do wonder, as 5G evolves, more artificial intelligence, more ability to connect into devices, as IoT grows and augmented and virtual reality grows, there’ll probably be messaging elements that come out of that that are logical. We’re excited to be on the forefront of being part of some of that, over time.

James Lapic: Absolutely. Yeah. I’m always excited about where this industry goes. I get a lot of grief from folks in my life about, “Man, you’re still doing messaging,” but frankly, it continues to be exciting and it’s continuing to thrive and grow every year. I never would have thought that it’d be more exciting now than it was when I started 15-plus years ago. I’m very excited still.

Scott Heimes: Well, here’s to the next 15 years.

James Lapic: Yeah.

Scott Heimes: If we’re still talking about RCS rollout, then that would be sad, but I think we got something we’ll figure out before then. Thanks for joining us today on the Zipcast, James.

James Lapic: Thanks, Scott. Pleasure to be here.

Scott Heimes: Thanks for joining us. Hey, if you haven’t heard, Zipwhip recently published The Ultimate Guide to Texting your Customers. Whether your business is considering texting, or you’ve already adopted a texting tool, this new e-book has all the info you need for a successful texting strategy. For a free download, just go to zipwhip.com/ultimate guide. Until next time.

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