Feature Article

November 07, 2012

RCS and joyn: OTT Killer or Time-Waster?

Rich communications services (RCS), deployed by MetroPCS in the U.S. and several European carriers in the form of joyn, is the wireless industry's response to over-the-top (OTT) services such as Skype, Ring Central and dozens of other client/services floating around today. 

Can RCS offer enough to users to get them to leave OTT behind? Or does RCS miss the point of Skype and the pack of “me-too” contenders?

Since Skype grew to be, well, Skype, numerous parties have been setting their sights on dethroning the King of All OTT. Rumors had AT&T working on a Skype Killer, Google using GoogleTalk and ooVoo displacing Skype in the personal video conferencing arena, and there are relative newcomers like Viber that would like to be the next Skype. 

OTT offerings these days typically fit a template consisting of an application that delivers voice, IM, presence and video, along with a couple of revenue-generating components with low-cost international voice the leading cash generation mechanism. Every six months or so, I get an e-mail from a new OTT provider aiming to be the king, plus semi-regular communications from existing providers who have some new (always larger) growth numbers making them some respective percentage as large as Skype.

How is RCS, in its current branded incantation of joyn, better/faster/stronger than OTT players? Looking at joyn and how it’s being rolled out, two factors appear evident. First, joyn will be the standardized default/pre-installed video/IM/presence client for customers and supported by carriers offering it. If joyn goes bad, one should be able to roll into the local official service provider storefront and find a "throat to choke." 

Secondly, joyn (and RCS) has auto-discovery between it and other users in a person's address book. There are no passwords, no registration and no new address book to share; instead, joyn figures out who has it and shows via icons what services you can use to communicate with a particular person, whether it’s chat, IM or video. 

However, RCS is fighting an uphill battle as it doesn't have the one feature OTT services offered in the first place – a way to save money. OTT services added and retained customers because they offered no-cost on(IP) network calling between users and lower-cost international off-net calling.

There's no incentive to switch to joyn for users on an OTT service to trim a monthly calling bill.

Longer term, joyn also needs to demonstrate RCS functionality/usefulness outside of the smartphone. RCS video calling on a tablet is a natural fit and will no doubt appear soon, but a lot of customers will want to seamlessly move between mobile devices such as tablets and phones, to laptops and desktops. 

I'll believe the RCS community "gets it" when they start rolling out clients for Windows 8 and Apple's Macintosh. Most people use Skype and other OTT clients across computing platforms. Joyn will have to be multi-platform – mobile and desktop-esque – if it hopes to successfully displace existing OTT services.

Edited by Braden Becker

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