Talking RCS with MetroPCS

By Joan Engebretson November 21, 2012

MetroPCS has achieved a number of “firsts” in the U.S. wireless market, including being the first carrier to launch voice over LTE as well as the first – and only – carrier to launch rich communications service (RCS) capability. RCS is a standard that was created to enable network operators to offer advanced services such as video sharing and file transfer – and importantly, to do so in a manner that would be interoperable with other networks.

I recently talked with Dr. Solyman Ashrafi, vice president of product management for MetroPCS, about the benefits of RCS and the carrier’s plans for the technology. As Ashrafi explained, RCS was a logical next step after MetroPCS deployed IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) capability to support its VoLTE launch.

“You can consider RCS as a technology enabler that will enable you to monetize new services,” he said.

MetroPCS has not yet launched any revenue-generating services. Instead, the company currently uses RCS to deliver no-charge telephony services such as presence. “I can indicate if I’m on-line, available, or in a meeting,” Ashrafi explained. “It’s color-coded and very seamless.”

Moving forward, MetroPCS enables “mashing up” RCS capabilities to create paid services, initially financial applications. “You can take a service like mobile banking and mash it with RCS,” Ashrafi said. “You can have a video chat with a person and do a financial transaction at the same time.”

Ashrafi declined to say how soon MetroPCS would have this sort of offering. But he said the company was “close” to launching some RCS-based financial services.

Hurdles

One reason RCS may not have progressed further at this point is that it doesn’t work with every handset and end users must download a Joyn client before they can make use of the services. That client is available at MetroPCS’s app store, but to date the carrier hasn’t been promoting it. (Joyn is a brand created by the GSMA that can only be used by manufacturers and carriers such as MetroPCS that have been GSMA-certified.)

Ashrafi noted, however, that MetroPCS is planning a promotional program for RCS and that RCS will likely get a boost when device manufacturers begin shipping handsets that have the Joyn client pre-installed.

Having some other network operators support RCS also would make the technology more appealing – and Ashrafi said MetroPCS has been talking with some other operators about that possibility.

Before launching RCS, MetroPCS did some consumer focus group research and what the company learned encouraged it to move ahead on deploying RCS. “Our conclusion was that the need for simplification with a unified user experience is absolutely there,” Ashrafi said.

A key concern that RCS can help address is consumer confusion about over-the-top apps, he said. “If you look at OTT, it’s a very fragmented application space,” he noted. “There are new apps for every action and they’re not integrated very well. You have to use a user name and password for each one . . . and they’re all built on proprietary protocols.”

Bringing standardization to this area was a “painful and time consuming path,” Ashrafi said. But much of the hard work has now been completed and the net result is the RCS standard, he said.

Ashrafi is hopeful that RCS will become pervasive. “We’re moving toward a state where you could have a MetroPCS user talk to a non-MetroPCS user even if they don’t have the same capabilities on the infrastructure side,” he said. “We’re trying to make [communications] as frictionless as possible so human-to-human communications can be done over any device, any operating system and any network.”




Edited by Rachel Ramsey

Contributing Editor

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