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Is RCS Destined for a Home in the Enterprise?

Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:29am
Ben Munson

In the interest of stemming the tide of over-the-top (OTT) applications cashing in off waves someone else paid to build, it would seem like Rich Communication Services (RCS) would be a top priority for carriers. With the availability and ubiquity of mobile applications ready to perform the functions of RCS, mobile users can pick and choose the apps that best suit their communications needs, tailoring their own makeshift RCS, often for free. A carrier-branded RCS would mean limited choice, bloatware excess and added fees for end users; not exactly an easy sell.

RCS, which co-opts standards set by 3GPP and OMA, is now in its fifth iteration and still hardly anyone has seen it in action. The GSMA has seen its branded RCS, Joyn, find footholds across Europe. Deutsche Telekom just recently deployed Joyn in Germany where Vodafone, the other largest carrier in the country, has also launched, enabling a chance for Joyn to show off its interoperability promise on a larger scale.

So far in the U.S. though, only MetroPCS has opted to deploy Joyn. The carrier is adopting it through Jibe Mobile which will allow subscribers on other networks to download and use Joyn’s RCS suite capabilities.

T-Mobile has thus far remained resistant to the idea of RCS and it’s unclear if MetroPCS—on the verge of merging with T-Mobile—will have much impact in changing the carrier’s mind. Even if that occurred, it would still only present RCS to a small fraction of wireless customers in the U.S. Without the big carriers on board, a wide-scale, interoperable RCS and the monetization that comes along with it remains a pipe dream.

Tony Jamous is the CEO of Nexmo, a cloud-based SMS company providing an active link between OTT messaging developers and providers. He sees the potential for a unique user ID that can be shared across different apps as a way of tackling interoperability. As far as RCS solving that problem, he thinks there are too many variables upon which agreement must be reached, which in turn will prevent the big mobile players from speeding up adoption of RCS.

“I don’t think the innovation is going to come from the carriers,” said Jamous.

But while RCS struggles to gain traction in the commercial space, perhaps it could catch hold of the enterprise angle, where it bears a similarity to the Unified Communications (UC) offerings that so many business customers are looking for now.

Oracle currently offers a converged applications server that aims to help customers establish click-to functionality and build apps that can engage in all IP environments, as its primary RCS enabling service.

Brian Kracik, director of product marketing at Oracle, has not seen a big uptick in adoption of RCS in the enterprise, which he likens to the “apathy” toward Joyn seen on the consumer side.

“When we look at the demand we’re seeing for RCS, it’s a lot less than what was expected in the beginning,” said Kracik.

He partly attributed the lack of demand to the emergence of WebRTC, which he sees more frequently adopted by enterprise customers leveraging UC.

WebRTC is a free, open-source set of Javascript APIs, based on W3C standards, that are designed to work in either both the Chrome and Firefox a web browsers. The solution is designed to allow for plug-in free transfer of voice, video and simple data between devices. Current RTC-enabled applications like Skype, Facebook and Google Hangouts require users to download plug-ins.

“We’re seeing more and more momentum and potential disruption coming from WebRTC,” Kracik said. “I think that’s where more of the focus is.”

But Alcatel-Lucent doesn’t share that view.

Sue White, senior director of advanced communications and cloud solutions marketing for Alcatel-Lucent, sees a brighter future for RCS in the enterprise.

White notes that Alcatel-Lucent has been involved with RCS since the very early trials and that the company currently focuses its efforts in Europe on messaging (with RCS-e) and in North America, it focuses more on presence servers, which provide real-time information regarding user availability, service capability and social presence.

“We do see a lot of big benefits,” White said. “We’re very positive about RCS in the enterprise.”

She also sees UC as a good entry point into enterprise for RCS, but also adds that there’s a need to go beyond UC.

“It’s making communications a natural part of everything you do in the enterprise,” White said. “It comes naturally as part of something we’re doing rather than saying ‘Now I have to click on that contact and find out what their number and then go get my mobile and then dial it in my mobile.’”

White sees RCS as being an important part of building that kind of intuitiveness.

“You can take [RCS] features like presence, video, voice and messaging and they become backend infrastructure that you build into apps,” White said. “And because it’s based on IMS, you’ve already this standard network that works not just in your enterprise.”

Another advantage of RCS in the enterprise is cost. White attributes the standards-based approach of RCS to driving down the costs associated with building a base communication platform that incorporates voice, video and messaging.

Mentioning a recent contract with a large as-of-yet unnamed company, White said Alcatel-Lucent was able to secure the win by addressing the company’s concerns over multiple communications vendors with IMS session controls which reduced costs in the process.

Talking about security, a primary concern for the enterprise, White seemed to think it was somewhat inherit with RCS in its use of IMS standards.

“In leveraging IMS, you’ve already got encryption back to the main session control,” White said. “So I think that there some capabilities built into IMS that automatically make it more secure than an OTT application.”

RCS doesn’t appear poised to make a dent in the consumer mobile market anytime soon. But considering its shared characteristics with UC and potential cost-saving benefits in reach, that goal as well as its intrinsic security features, RCS could find a home in the enterprise.

 
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