Monday, November 5, 2012

MetroPCS' Rich Communications Services - A Bit Early

MetroPCS has the bragging rights to be the first 4G LTE carrier to deploy Rich Communications Services (RCS). To MetroPCS' credit, it is one of the most aggressive carriers to deploy bleeding edge technology - first US carrier to launch LTE and first US carrier to deploy voice over LTE (VoLTE). Is this all public relations positioning? Yes and no.  Once on the LTE path, the service aspect is the crucial element that brings return on investment.

MetroPCS has already launched exclusive LTE plans with differentiated services. One motivation is to move its CDMA base onto the more efficient LTE network. It also helps the carrier in the long term as it empties that PCS spectrum and allows for refarming.  The other motivation is to encourage switchers from other carriers. MetroPCS' high-value plans and unlimited options may resonate with a tech forward/price sensitive demographic.  But beyond service plans the other natural offshoots of LTE have arrived - VoLTE and RCS services.

VoLTE on the surface sounds like a cool thing to have for a consumer but do they go out of their way to ask for it? No.  VoLTE has more benefits for the carrier than the consumer because it is packetizing voice into the data stream.  So there won't be dedicated and inefficient use of a voice channel(s).  All spectrum can be used for data - more efficient.  

RCS on the other hand is purely customer facing. RCS is supposed to be the carrier answer to monetize the data networks and a foil against over the top (OTT) providers (e.g., Skype, Tango, WhatsApp, etc.) in terms of SMS/Chat, video calling, voice, and content sharing, ergo Rich Comm Services.  The value proposition is that a customer doesn't need to download all these disparate applications with  the multitude of login names and passwords. All this could be accomplished with just the phone number. The carrier's application can do all of this for you through its own network.  MetroPCS has embraced RCS and offers those services under the joyn brand


joyn is an umbrella service brand for a joint mobile operator (carrier) effort to monetize data, fight OTT providers. joyn was announced at Mobile World Congress 2012. While most of the attention was directed at European carriers, it's notable that MetroPCS, a prepaid and regional provider is the first out of the gate instead of tier one carriers.  Of course it's easier to execute on a smaller network and therein lies MetroPCS' advantage. 

Though laudable, MetroPCS' challenge is to educate its subscriber base on the merits of ditching OTT and adopt joyn.  This sounds great because all of joyn services are for the most part free (as part of the subscription). However operating joyn for now is within the confines of the MetroPCS network and with specific handsets using the joyn client. The issue without other carriers on board, OTT apps will continue to proliferate unless a customer's friend and family base are all on the MetroPCS network.  It's unlikely.  Joyn will take a while to implement as the power comes with all the other carriers playing ball. For now, MetroPCS' launch is a bit early to realize the true promise of joyn.