Will adding blockchain to RCS save telecoms? Or even RCS?

RCS blockchain
Image credit: quietbits / Shutterstock.com

Telecoms operators have been desperately looking for cool ways to fight against the OTT players eroding their world. Their latest weapon of choice in that fight is … would you believe RCS? No? How about RCS combined with blockchain?

This particular news came from a frankly slightly confusing press release from SoftBank about Synchronoss, a “leader and innovator of cloud, messaging, digital and IoT products” and TCBASoft, a blockchain expert.

These companies have announced a proof of concept (PoC) with Softbank to trial mobile payments via RCS, based – of course – on blockchain technology.

The whole thing comes under the auspices of the Carrier Blockchain Study Group (CBSG) Consortium to deliver a cross-carrier blockchain platform called CCPS (cross-carrier payment service), which “facilitates global mobile payment services among global telecommunication carriers”. The initial goal is that Japanese visitors to the US can find things and pay for things via their mobile device, without any hassle.

It is interesting because it is based on blockchain and somehow, somewhere, telcos will be able to take great advantage of blockchain technology – in supply chain, billing, fraud, or who knows what.

It is also interesting because it is also based on RCS, the GSMA-championed next-gen messaging platform that has been at least 15 years in the making and – frankly – struggling to catch on, thanks to all those OTT players doing the eroding mentioned above.

We have seen evidence that RCS is finally coming into its own, as various operators have adopted it in some form or other, thanks in no small part to Google’s Android supporting it. RCS is even being touted as a business app that can take A2P – the hot growth trend in SMS – to new levels of excitement (and revenue). In any case, the GSMA assures us that there are at least 165 million people in the world actually using RCS, and that there will be 350 million of them by the end of this year.

It is encouraging but slightly sad. Whilst these initiatives are to be welcomed, coming from the rear trying to make up so much lost ground is a very difficult thing to achieve. It is also hard to fathom how, when customers are used to the apps they have, telcos can present and encourage take-up of apps that customers may well think they already have a version of.

This is made worse by the fact that in the 90s – when good old fashioned competition was around – telcos would watch, wait, learn and leap. They would use lawyers to slow innovative competitors down, then buy them when they were ready to do so. Nowadays the competitors are too big and too quick, and the telcos don’t have nearly enough money to buy them.

Things are changing – even telecoms culture (albeit slowly) – and there may be some ‘wins’ as the telcos fight back.

At the moment 5G is being hyped as the obvious industry savior, and telcos must be in the driving seat to take full advantage of it. But the 5G that will deliver the innovative capabilities so loved of the hype mongers is still years away.

Let’s hope that we do not see a straight re-run of the technology and competition story over the last 15 years or so.

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