RCS – Rich Communication Services to replace GSM?

RCS or Rich Communication Service sits poised to take the crown of GSM.  Yet is it going to?  Do we really need another standard?

Many people just turn their mobile phones on and make calls not realising the many working parts that go into giving you your mobile service.

These separate parts upgrade.  As a result each part provides a basis for new and interesting services to evolve or expand.


GSMA is a group upgrading our basic usage of mobile phones.  Furthermore who are they and what gives them the right to mess with our stuff?

This article provides a very quick introduction to the area and how the bits fit together…

Change when done right, is actually really exciting and interesting!  There are a host of business opportunities in this change for everyone!

  • So what can it do?
  • A quick mobile history
  • Evolution of standards

I hope you like your acronyms the mobile industry REALLY likes them.  You’ve been warned!


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So what can it do?

The Universal Profile

Let’s get straight to the dessert of the matter?  What is it going to do for me.

Brace yourself!


RCS is an evolution in mobile capabilities.  GSMA (a group and standard explained later) proposed the standard proposed and manage it.

The teams weren’t playing while they were pioneering.  Consequently GSMA included the global kitchen sink of capabilities.


We start with something called the the Universal Profile which contains core features such as

  • chat and group chat without 3rd party software
  • file transfer
  • audio messaging
  • video share
  • multi-device
  • enriched calling (in-call multimedia),
  • location share
  • capability discovery (which will be inter-operable between regions)
  • live sketching (drawing pictures while chatting)

It also introduces the key enablers for Messaging as a Platform (MaaP).

MaaP includes support for RCS features such as:

  • privacy control
  • spam protection
  • business messaging
  • rich cards (vCard 4.0)
  • video voice mail
  • phonebook polling (service discovery)
  • social presence information
  • IP voice call (IR92 and IR.58)
  • IP video call (IR.94)
  • geolocation exchange
  • capability exchange based on presence or SIP options
  • SMS fallback features

Improved central message store and service extension tags are also in the specification.


The highlights for personal users

RCS reuses 3GPP specified IMS core system (explained below).

By using this underlying service platform it takes care of issues such as authentication, authorization, registration, charging and routing.


Different phones, software and networks will support different sets of these capabilities.

So being able to detect another phone’s capabilities and presence information is important.

This ability reduces frustration because someone’s older phone can or can’t give that user that service, so your device doesn’t give you the option.


Security, privacy and encryption are all catered for.

RCS has a much higher level and approach to encryption that means no court order can get companies to release messages.


All the visual parts of tools businesses treat as common, such as video conferencing capabilities, will now be available on every call you make if you want.


Business disruption and change

Viber and Facebook’s Messenger and Whatsapp solutions have a challenge on their hands.

Microsoft will probably transition Skype into this area relatively easily.

Googles Allo and Hangouts will probably get a massive boost.

Where Blackberry and Apple’s future remains to be seen at the time of writing this article.

Conference call solution providers will be watching very closely as this is a disruptive move to their industry as well.

How your customers interact with your business, including leaving video mails or “presence of your support teams” are massive opportunities and threats.


A quick mobile history

Big ideas and working together

To know where RCS came from we need to go back 30+ years.

America and Britain developed “mobile phone systems” called AMPS and TACS, however the world needed a global solution.

When you go on holidays how does your mobile phone work seamlessly?  Well the world adopted one standard.

GSM or Global System for Mobile communication started in 1983.


A European group (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications administrations (CEPT)) decided they needed an international standard.

The standard they agreed needed  some common capabilities.

  • First off we have international roaming support
  • Next we need high speech quality
  • Also there has to be support for handheld devices
  • It should support a low service cost
  • Furthermore it should keep the future in mind and provide support for new services
  • Finally but not exclusively it should support Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) capability.  (The fastest internet connectivity before broadband came along).

In 1987, representatives from 13 European countries signed a contract to deploy a telecommunications standard.

The European Union (EU) then two years later passed laws to require GSM as a standard in Europe.

CEPT handed the project over to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).


Finland leading the way

Nokia is a town and a municipality on the banks of the Nokianvirta River in the region of Pirkanmaa.

As of 31 August 2017 it has a population of 33,288.

More famously Nokia is a name of a company which is a global leader in innovations such as mobile networks, digital health and phones.


Finland as a country in 1991 launched GSM in their country.

From these humble but technically advanced beginnings by 2010, GSM represented 80% of the global mobile market.

However, several telecommunications carriers have since decommissioned their GSM networks, including Telstra in Australia.

In 2017, Singapore retired its 2G GSM network.  Why because things evolve and newer better solutions come along.


The techy bits

RCS works on the foundations of GSM.  As a result let’s take a quick look at what makes up GSM.

The GSM network has four separate parts that work together to function as a whole:

  • the mobile device itself,
  • the base station subsystem (BSS),
  • the network switching subsystem (NSS) and
  • the operation and support subsystem (OSS).

The mobile device connects to the network via radio signals working from 900 MHz and 1,800 MHz, also called dual band.

A subscriber identity module (SIM) card provides the network with identifying information about the mobile user.

Image from http://bit.ly/2JsFqF0

As consumers need more and more data needs down the pipe, different approaches appear: (lets see how many acronyms I can fit into one list)

  • Firstly TDMA, GSM and code-division multiple access (CDMA) are the three primary digital wireless telephony technologies
  • Consequently GSM uses a variation of time division multiple access (TDMA)
  • Furthermore we have High-Speed Circuit-Switched Data (HSCSD)
  • Also we have Universal Terrestrial Radio Access (UTRA)
  • Not to forget Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS)

Your phone can handle a lot of different communications technologies you probably didn’t even know about.


Evolution of standards

Wireless evolution

Let’s not forget in technological terms GSM has been around a long time.  RCS is relatively new.

Improvements are part of technological evolution.

So we ended up with “generations” instead of “versions” of the technologies.

  • First up was GSM and related 2G and 2.5G standards, including GPRS and EDGE
  • Next generation involved UMTS and related 3G standards, including HSPA
  • Following that up LTE and related 4G standards, including LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro
  • Currently “next generation” and related 5G standards deliver the current forefront of wireless abilities.

Now to explain that acronym fiesta

  • General Packet Radio Service (GPRS)
  • Enhanced Data GSM Environment (EDGE)
  • High Speed Packet Access (HSPA)
  • Long-Term Evolution (LTE)

Somebody please make the acronyms stop… sorry, it gets worse as there are groups who look after these acronyms.


Example of teams working to deliver new standards

3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is a collaborative project.

Organizational Partners (OP) make up the telecommunications standards bodies of 3GPP .  They include:

  • Firstly we have Japan’s Association of Radio Industries and Businesses (ARIB) and Telecommunications Technology Committee (TTC),
  • Next we have China’s Communications Standards Association (CCSA),
  • We also have South Korea’s Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA)
  • Furthermore the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) again rears their head
  • Finally the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) with headquarters in Washington D.C.

3GPP aimed to develop globally acceptable specifications for third generation (3G) mobile systems.

The 3GPP caters to a large majority of the telecommunications networks in the world.

It is the standard body behind UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), which is the 3G upgrade of GSM


The Internet to cause trouble

Long before RCS was even an talking point, the Internet has transformed life on earth.

From 1995 onward, the Internet massively changed how mobile technology solved problems.

Using the Internet was just data, it didn’t matter what was in the data.

The IP Multimedia Subsystem or IP Multimedia CoreNetwork Subsystem (IMS) is an architectural framework for delivering IP multimedia services.


An evolved IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) developed in an access independent manner.

This means it worked on the internet and didn’t matter about wireless or wired or what was in the data.


Time to get serious folks.

Welcome to the GSM Association or ‘the GSMA’ : Global System for Mobile Communications Association, originally Groupe Spécial Mobile.

It is a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.

Approximately 800 mobile operators are full GSMA members and a further 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem are associate members.

GSMA formed in 1995, 12 years after the CEPT idea.

The ‘GSM MoU Association’ (Memorandum of Understanding) as a body to support and promote mobile operators using GSM globally.

So if the GSMA decides to adopt something, its going to become a worldwide standard.


Evolution, the birth of RCS

Image from http://bit.ly/2JqSLxz

2007 saw a group of interested parties decide to form the “Rich Communication Suite”.

Pioneering like CEPT, the GSMA adopted the project in 2008 GSMA put three years of research into the project.

In 2011 GSMA release a specification called RSC-e (enhanced).

Wait till 2016 and we get the “Universal Profile”.

The GSMA’s Universal Profile is a single, industry-agreed set of features and technical enablers.

These enablers are developed to simplify the product development and global operator deployment of RCS.

Carriers that deploy the Universal Profile guarantee interconnection with other carriers.


47 mobile network operators, 11 manufacturers, and 2 OS providers (Google and Microsoft) have announced their support

RCS can also be called Advanced Messaging, Advanced Communications, joyn, Message+ and SMS+.

GSMA estimate the evolution to RCS will be worth an estimated $74bn by 2021 to:

  • Firstly Operators who provide signal and backbone interconnections
  • Also to OEMs who make the phones and network equipment
  • Finally to OS Providers such as Google and Microsoft.



If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.



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