According to the telecom industry news site Light Reading, the big three US carriers are walking away from the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative. The CCMI was meant to be a joint effort to promote RCS, the next-generation messaging standard designed to replace SMS. But while that might seem like bad news on the face of it, what it actually means is that carriers have given up on a bad plan that would have been bad for consumers. Whether or not they will replace it with a good plan remains, as ever with RCS, to be seen.
The CCMI was launched in 2019 and by all indications was a joint effort that was spearheaded by Sprint. It initially seemed like a mixed bag of news. At the time, any effort by carriers to support proper cross-compatibility in RCS was a good sign. But the bad part was the consortium planned on creating an Android app themselves for messaging features. If you’ve ever used an app designed by a major US carrier, you know that’s a recipe for a bad experience.
Google was not part of the CCMI announcement, either, which was very strange given that Google is by far the biggest booster for the standard.
However, after that announcement there was precious little information or movement. All the carriers seemed too busy hyping up 5G to give any real attention to the CCMI. Plus, T-Mobile was barreling down the path towards acquiring Sprint.
That acquisition happened and the one carrier that seemed enthusiastic for CCMI was subsumed into another. Then, last month, T-Mobile announced a huge deal with Google that included switching Android phones over to Android Messages as the default RCS/SMS app. The writing was on the wall.
Light Reading reached out to the third-party vendor, Synchronoss, that was originally going to handle the back-end logistics for the CCMI app (RCS can be run through a carrier’s server, Google’s server, or a third-party server). But while Synchronoss’ comment was noncommittal, Verizon and AT&T are now just telling it like it is. Here’s what Verizon told Light Reading:
The owners of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative decided to end the joint venture effort. However, the owners remain committed to enhancing the messaging experience for customers including growing the availability of RCS.
The rollout for RCS worldwide — and especially in the US — has been terribly slow and even more terribly confusing. Phones that should be compatible weren’t, carriers that promised their RCS would interoperate with others didn’t build those systems, and Apple continued to stay absolutely silent on whether it would support RCS (and it continues to stay silent to this day).
However, Google has plodded along with its plan, making piece-by-piece efforts to broaden RCS adoption. It made RCS available to anybody on any carrier if they used Android Messages as their SMS app. It cut that deal with T-Mobile. It has even begun testing end-to-end-encryption over RCS inside Android messages.
I will be the first in line to tell you that the rollout for RCS took what should have been a coordinated six-month effort that was a win for both carriers and Google and turned it into a multi-year slog that didn’t help anybody, least of all consumers. But the end of the CCMI is a sign that carriers might just be implementing more consumer-friendly RCS policies, not that they’re walking away entirely. T-Mobile made that deal with Google instead. Will all AT&T and Verizon continue to drag their feet on RCS? Almost definitely. But at least they won’t be foisting a carrier-made app on every Android user in the US.