Media & Entertainment

After Jibe Mobile Buy, Google To Provide Carriers With Android RCS Client

Comment

Here at Mobile World Congress 2016, the annual Barcelona-based flesh-pressing of the telco industry, Google and a bunch of carriers have put out a press release talking up how they are apparently ‘aligning’ to try to drive adoption of RCS.

Aka the Rich Communications Services interoperable messaging standard that carriers have been trying to push for years.

Carriers’ aim with RCS (formerly called Joyn) was to try to evolve SMS with a new standard that baked in richer features, such as instant messaging, group chats, file sharing and so on; i.e. the sorts of features now routinely found in over-the-top messaging apps like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. So really that ship has sailed, and the latter apps are continuing to pull users away from SMS, diminishing the old carrier cash-cow even further.

Instead of a new cash-cow carriers have only a lame duck alternative in RCS. And yet they’re still hoping it can turn into a golden goose — hence today’s trumpeting…

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.

Thing is, carriers have been trying and failing to get RCS to fly for years, but got bogged down in trying to agree standards for all the various features. And when OTT messaging platform Whatsapp, which is actually a bit younger than the RCS industry initiative, can boast of having one billion active users now it’s clear who’s stolen the messaging momentum — and it’s not the carriers. Apple has also managed to deliver a widely adopted SMS alternative (iMessage) which, while not perfect, is very usable and well used.

Meanwhile the carriers are now only talking about building “a path” to one billion users for RCS (and a target of four billion+ SMS users). Yet, as others have noted, they’re not breaking out any actual active user stats for RCS.

One billion is also an admission of failure if the original ambition was to build the next gen of SMS…

Today’s RCS announcement is clearly aimed at giving the impression of some uplift — with Google cast as the limelight-bringer. After all it is MWC16 and carriers want to be able to dream of golden gooses at their annual Mediterranean confab.

“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,” the GSMA carrier association writes in the release, which lists 19 carriers by name (and the GSMA) yet lacks some of the big names (e.g. no AT&T and no Verizon, the parent of TechCrunch’s parent AOL).

In a statement, Google’s Nick Fox, VP of communications products at Google, adds: “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.”

Why has Google been persuaded to lend its brand gloss to the carriers’ lame duck? We can but speculate that perhaps it wanted to keep the GSMA happy so it would sanction another Android-branded playground landing in the middle of MWC, as has been unveiled today — complete with a free smoothie bar and Android pin badges that delegates can fight over, as per the last time Google’s Android branding took over MWC back in 2011

More seriously, Google agreeing to provide an Android RCS client does follow on from it acquiring RCS specialist Jibe Mobile back in September, when it said it would adopt the RCS standard.

“SMS carrier messaging is used by billions of people every day and enables people to reach anyone around the world, regardless of their device, carrier, app or location. The features available in SMS haven’t kept up with modern messaging apps. Rich Communications Services (RCS) is a new standard for carrier messaging and brings many of the features that people now expect from mobile messaging, such as group chats, high res photos and more,” said Google at the time of buying Jibe.

Also at the time of the Jibe acquisition, telecoms analyst Dean Bubley suggested Mountain View’s move was actually aimed at building its own Android-to-Android iMessage competitor — a theory he’s still not ruling out, so perhaps Google still has some hopes on that front.

Albeit, Bubley couches Google’s latest RCS pronouncement as “very lukewarm”, noting it has not specified the client will be on all Android devices, for example, even if what is clearly carrier-written PR talks about reaching “all Android devices” — which would encompasses an awful lot of hardware these days, from phones to smart TVs, to smartwatches and more. (We’ve asked Google for some clarity here and will update this post with any response).

Update: A Google spokeswoman said: “Once deployed, the Universal RCS Client will come standard for all Android devices globally, providing a more consistent experience with more advanced features.”  To be clear, that’s ‘standard’ in the sense of OEMs and carriers being able to choose to install it — so not universal, not mandated by Google and thus most certainly fragmented. (Also on fragmentation the spokeswoman confirmed that currently the client only works on phones and tablets, so not all Android devices by any means.)

There’s also no clear timeframe on when Google will be delivering the RCS client. (The spokeswoman had no concrete commitments to impart here, saying only that Google is “planning to launch later this year”.) And, as noted above, without ubiquity it’s going to mean fragmentation keeps RCS-powered messaging apps from building the sought for mass messaging momentum via the platform.

So those SMS “billions” Google seemed to be eyeing up last fall, with its Jibe acquisition freshly closed, aren’t perhaps looking so reachable to it now via the RCS route.

Still, it’s possible Google thinks it’s still worth a punt on the tech to offer an iMessage alternative — if only for a sub-set of Android handsets.

The PR also notes that operators rolling out RCS can deploy their own infrastructure or have “the option to use the Jibe Platform from Google”, which it notes supports the universal RCS profile.

“The Jibe Platform includes a hosted cloud for individual operators to launch RCS services for all leading mobile operating systems and the Jibe Hub to interconnect operator RCS networks,” the release adds.

So Google at least gets the chance to cosy up to a few of those listed carriers — and maybe any resulting relationships could be useful to it for some of its other initiatives. After all, Google is actually rebranded Alphabet nowadays — and it has a business unit for just about every letter of the alphabet. And you can guarantee that all its businesses reap the rewards of increasing connectivity.

More TechCrunch

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo