Over and out? AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon ditch RCS joint venture

US carriers abandon a joint venture to bring Rich Communications Services (RCS) messaging to all smartphones.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have killed off the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI), a joint venture created in 2019 to bring Rich Communications Services (RCS) messaging to Android devices.

News of the CCMI's demise comes from telco-focused website Light Reading, to which Verizon confirmed that the US carriers that owned CCMI have ended the joint venture.

"The owners of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative decided to end the joint venture effort," Verizon told the publication.

While that spells the end of the CCMI, it's not the end for RCS messaging, which Google has thrown its weight behind to create a modern take on SMS with capabilities more like Apple's iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, such as group chats, read receipts, and video and audio messaging. Google has supported RCS by enabling it in Android's default Messages app.

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RCS is also an opportunity for carriers to earn SMS-like revenue with a messaging system that can better compete with services like Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Verizon said that the "owners remain committed to enhancing the messaging experience for customers including growing the availability of RCS." 

RCS was proposed in 2007 as a replacement for SMS, but it didn't gain much traction until AT&T, Sprint (now part of T-Mobile), T-Mobile and Verizon announced the CCMI in 2019.

The CCMI was meant to create a business-to-consumer rich messaging system, allow consumers to buy services from apps, and enable RCS messaging across carriers in the US and abroad.

However, Apple never declared support for RCS and the protocol's future remained an open question. 

Despite Google's backing, RCS hasn't taken off in the US. As per Light Reading, RCS "remains a dud in the US", despite gaining some adoption in Japan.

T-Mobile also told the publication it is still committed to "delivering RCS interoperability and are working with other providers to make it happen".

"T-Mobile customers with Android devices can currently enjoy RCS messaging across our network as well as with many other customers worldwide by interoperating with Google," the carrier said. 

T-Mobile, arguably the biggest supporter of RCS, last month announced it was working with Google to make Android Messages the default rich messaging platform on devices on its network.     

"T-Mobile plans to make Messages the default messaging experience on all Android devices, including support for the advanced messaging capabilities of Rich Communication Services (RCS)," the carrier said. 

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In the UK, BT announced in October that its EE mobile network would partner with Google to bring RCS Business Messaging (RBM) to companies in the UK. 

BT claimed its RBM pre-order campaign for the Samsung Galaxy S20 drove a 5-fold improvement in engagement when compared to SMS and email.

According to BT, there are around 400 million devices globally with RCS enabled. That's still a very tiny number compared to the 4.7 billion mobile subscribers that can use SMS today, according to figures from mobile industry body GSMA, which creates RCS specifications.

Facebook says that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp handle 60 billion messages a day. GSMA sponsored a survey across Spain, India, China and the US that found that 64% of internet users send SMS daily while 75% use instant messaging apps like WhatsApp.