IMS RCS : an update six months on

I did a short piece six months ago on the IMS Rich Communication Suite. Last week I was speaking at the IMS 2.0 and RCS conference in Amsterdam. So here’s a brief update, along with some general colour from the conference itself.

First off – the conference. It was pretty good – a three day event, with a good mix of operators, vendors and various unclassifiables like myself. I’d guess 150-200 people in total, with good attendance through the days. Format was a mix if speaking slots and panels, and overall it was very interactive, with good engagement between those on the stage and those in the audience. That always makes for a good conference, as you tend to get more from discussion than lecture. This is true also of the coffee breaks and lunches – where often some of the best information and learning occurs. 

Now – on to RCS itself. I am now officially worried about it. At a high level, that’s because the Telecom Industry process struggles to move at speed.

[Rant alert]

In this case, RCS was kicked off in late 2007, and is still hoping to be in real phones (as an implemented standard) in 2009. If it did this, it would be a minor miracle in itself, as that’s FAST in telco-land. This is because you have to get multiple stakeholders: operators/carriers, handset-players, and equipment and various software providers to agree (via a standard) on a common agenda and move from specification to implementation via comprehensive interop-testing in as short a time as possible. Often, that short time is three years. So as I say, 2009 would be a good result.

However, it’s just not fast enough any more. Right now, people are being actively educated about presence, availability and messaging, not by Orange, or Vodafone, but by Skype, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, among others. They don’t call it presence, or whatever. You just find your buddies and set your status. By the time the first RCS-enabled handsets are out, many, many users will also have become used to using these in a mobile setting: using fring or Truphone on the iPhone, or Nokia phones, or others.

My point is, when RCS ships, one of the first and valid questions from every target user will be: Does it work with my [AIM ; Google ; MSN ; Yahoo ; Skype] buddy list? No?

Um, FAIL, as the trend is to say now 🙂

Seriously: people won’t be asking: can I see everyone’s status on my phone book and does it interoperate across carriers and is it free of roaming charges. Just – does it work with what I’ve already been doing for 2, 3 or perhaps 5+ years. If the answer is no, then the service has a major adoption problem that is not being addressed. Google, Yahoo and the others need to be supportive of RCS. Someone from the relevant body needs to be talking to them now and finding a win-win between RCS and their services (and I think there are some). 

[Rant over]

So – back to the conference. it really was very good – there was excellent discussion around IMS and RCS, and candid questions (such as the above interop issue with the Internet Giants) were asked and discussed, even if no conclusive answers were found. The progress on the standards work has been fast by industry peer standards. I genuinely think that the RCS initiative has a chance of succeeding, and I applaud its attempt to ensure that rich interoperable services work day one on our cool new handsets in late 2009. I’m just concerned that this will end up being too little, too late, and that the Internet players will have scorched the Earth well before then, and moved on to the next battle.

The slides from our talk at the conference are here.

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