Another day, another article about the death of SMS. Before we get into a discussion of why I am sceptical, a quick observation. In The Innovators Dilemma (1997) Clay Christensen shows how new, under featured, but “good enough” services disrupt established players by getting to market – often with a substantially cheaper service.

As well as carving off the over serviced customers from the traditional service providers, an important growth vector for challenger brands is in finding users completely new to the industry; it is a very interesting dynamic because incumbents always need to come back to the customer with new features, additional services, new offers and so on. It’s not only human nature to pound the rubble for any gains we can find, but it is also based in a fundamental narrative of “progress”. What you end up with though are products and services that are over-engineered for their everyday use by customers.

When we look at SMS, it’s benefit has been twofold: simplicity and reach. Platforms that enable access to SMS have enabled us to send a short form communication to pretty much anyone, anywhere, about anything. If it can be written down with clarity, simplicity, and brevity, you can get your across.

Smartphone mobile changed the Internet because we consume on the move – and what we can and will do on a small screen varies from our behaviours on our big desktop screens. We are on the move, so location, context, and the richer data around our communications with individuals and companies needs to be browser based and mobile. This is where the mobile browser and the mobile app do a good job: they provide this rich interaction. And they provide it easily and without friction if they are designed well.

The Google announcement around RCS as a replacement for SMS was made at Mobile World Congress, the home of the Telecommunications Industry. That’s a big clue there. For years the telco mobile strategy was actually, “more SMS”. That’s why, in the early years, they refused to detail the line “Mobile Data” in their annual reports.

As good as iMessage? So what?

15 years later, and telecommunications companies have not managed to be anything more than good clean pipes. They barely facilitate our communications, never mind our  interactions and transactions. Online, we spend our time on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and now we move our personal messaging on Facebook Messenger, Snapchat Stories, or WhatsApp. Surely there is a way that telcos can add more value than simple SMS?

One of the industry answers has been RCS – the promise of enabling these kinds of web interactions from “any handset or device”. To be fair, ease of use, breath of deployment, and sheer convenience did offer a way into this market for this sector.

With this Google RCS announcement, device companies will still have to choose to install an RCS client on the mobile phone and it is, in my opinion, far more likely that it will result in a “as good as iMessage” service across Android devices than it will any kind of “universal messaging” capability.

Of course, this may be a god-send for those on an Android device, but it isn’t a game changer. Meanwhile, for the enterprise, they will still have to figure out how to send “the right message, over the right channel, at the right time”, and the challenge in terms of contact strategy is figuring out how to do this coherently.

A failed initiative?

At VoiceSage, we have taken the simple SMS channel and threaded in-bound and out-bound SMS so that it “acts like an iMessage” for the enterprise customer. You send a message out, the customer responds, and the agent responds back again.

Simple interactions can also be automated with this approach. Visual Touch Messages can be added to SMS via simple hyperlinks, so that those customers with smartphones can simply click the link, be presented with an easy-to-use interface that allows them to change a time slot for a delivery, or to pay a particular amount of money off a bill.

The key is that all this functionality is built on top of SMS as a delivery mechanism. Would we use “messaging via Andoid iMessage”? Sure we would, especially if it enabled an interaction to complete more effectively. But that doesn’t mean we’d get rid of SMS – there’s just no need.

As usual Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis has the hot take here and in the final analysis the GSM may be looking for a graceful exit for it’s very expensive, very lengthy, and ultimately, not going anywhere RCS initiative.




Paul Sweeney, Chief Product Officer, VoiceSage