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Sprint Adds RCS Services to Its Portfolio

October 15, 2013

Sprint is bringing RCS services to its customers, while bending over backward to not call it RCS. The company announced the launch of Messaging Plus, a cloud-based service delivered by Jibe Mobile. Is this the big break RCS fans have been waiting for?

“Sprint is the first national wireless carrier to enable cloud-based enhanced messaging features that can be downloaded on select smartphones for consumer use with multiple carriers," proclaims the press announcement.  Available via free download, Messaging Plus lets customers use a single application to send text, instant messaging, group messaging, video chat, and sharing of files across any wireless carrier in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Devices Sprint "supports" today  can download the app today are the HTC EVO 4G LTE, HTC One, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Victory, Samsung Note 2. In the future, Messaging Plus will be pre-loaded on all Android smartphones from Sprint, but I just downloaded it onto a Samsung Galaxy Note II on Verizon's network.

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Once Messaging Plus users install and run the app, they can invite their contacts on any carrier in the United States to download it to their device and start exchanging texts, IM, group messaging and video chat with anyone else, regardless of carrier.

How moving people to Messaging Plus will work in the real world is an interesting question. Many people are wed to one or multiple OTT communication services, but for people with no or little strong allegiance to a single OTT app – such as myself – it could be tempting to switch if there's broader uptake.

Messaging Plus appears to have three (and maybe four) things going for it over traditional OTT services.   Upon installation, it performs registration and authentication of the device. My professionally paranoid friends might not like this, but it's a necessary step to limit spam these days. Secondly, it performs auto-discovery for other Messaging Plus users you know (well, it did authenticate you via phone number) – there's no need to go invite people who are already users or have to re-enter in user IDs. 

The killer feature for Messaging Plus and other RCS apps is being able to easily share webpages via IM or chat. If someone texts you asking where you are, you can simply send them a map URL that they can "click" to pull up on their phone, rather than having to go through an awkward cut and paste process with SMS or IM to a Web browser or maps application.

A standardized, open API and support for GSMA RCS 5.1 standards and joyn could be the fourth thing going for it. GSMA is promoting joyn in Europe as the carrier OTT solution, but it has been a slow process. And with plenty of OTT solutions floating around, there's no single standard API for third-parties to build apps.   If Jibe gets itself established in more telcos, it could have a powerful advantage.

In theory, Messaging Plus should be able to talk to joyn and other RCS-based services since it uses the 5.1 standards. But I'd like to see it in practice, because I'm not clear on the authentication/permission process between differently run RCS services.

About my only skepticism here is the service first being introduced in the U.S. by Sprint. The carrier has left a trail of technology mistakes in its wake, ranging from WiMax to its deployment of HD voice. Messaging Plus will have to be adopted by other carriers before I'm a true believer.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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