Hall 8 at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona is the place to be for those who want to meet the cutting edge mobile applications about to be available in a short time or indeed already available. Here you meet the companies that daily meet the harsh reality of rapid adoption or even faster failure.
On the stand of LINK Mobility in this hall I have interviewed some of the most important decision makers in the industry.

Two concepts have been repeated several times: “The perfect storm” and RCS. The perfect storm refers to the combination of three different technologies: Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G, the next generation of mobile telephony. RCS, or Rich Communication Services, is the next generation of services designed by operators to replace SMS.

Operators want RSC to be their answer to richer messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage. The main advantage of RCS over these other services is that all users can be accessed across all operators and operating systems.

Telecom operators also hold the key to 5G. Thus, they have the opportunity to master “the perfect storm”. They are suddenly able to develop new services where smart devices respond to the environment in different ways, depending, for example, on usage patterns or timing. Smart thermostats, alarms or watches are examples of this. The devices can then communicate with consumers and manufacturers using RCS.

For the first time in many years, the telecom industry has the opportunity to create a separate ecosystem that can compete with those owned by the Internet giants such as Apple, Google, Amazon or Facebook.

Indeed, operators have a golden opportunity, but they are in a hurry.

First, neither IoT nor artificial intelligence is the exclusive property of the telecom industry. There are already a large number of players, from Apple to Google and Philips, who develop their own products and ecosystems. Many of the same actors also work with artificial intelligence.

Second, neither Apple nor Facebook are sitting and waiting for RCS to take users from them. Up until now, Apple has shown little willingness to cooperate on the RCS front. Facebook has its own strategy, based on integrating WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram under just one underlying platform. The users of all three of these platforms may be able to communicate with each other as early as later this year. If the rollout of the RCS across the operators does not happen impressively fast, the service can come too late to an already saturated market.

In order to succeed in establishing their own ecosystem, the mobile operators should therefore base their strategy on three different elements.

Shut down SMS as soon as possible. If RCS is a better version of SMS, then a large enough critical mass of operators should roll it out as soon as possible and sut down SMS. Thus, Apple will be forced to include RCS as an alternative messaging service – the green bubbles in iMessage.

Create an ecosystem of applications integrated into the RCS. In China, the WeChat messaging service has created such an ecosystem. There you can both send messages, pay for products and book an hour with your doctor without leaving the app. For operators, Google can be the friend the industry needs, because the search giant supports RCS. Google also owns many of the most popular apps we use daily. Can Amazon be a possible global partner too? How about Norwegian retailers, who may want to sell through a rich messaging service that reaches all users across operating systems?

Some of these integrated services should be specifically designed to control smart devices in the Internet of Things. Thus, RCS can differentiate itself from other messaging services and offer manufacturers and users the combined power of 5G and IoT from one single app.

Mobile operators should act quickly, coordinated and decisively. Only by doing so, they will be able of creating their own solid ecosystem with their own business models, and thus benefit from new sources of income after many years in a downward price spiral.

A version of this post in Norwegian was published on E24.no Friday 1.3.2019.

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