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GSM Group to Push New Mobile Services

Proponents of the mobile services portion of the Rich Communication Suite Initiative hope it will get a boost as industry organization GSM Association takes charge of the development.

The Rich Communication Suite (RCS) Initiative was announced in February. Its goal is to turn the architectural framework IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) into standardized services offered by mobile operators. First-phase services include enhanced phonebook, enhanced messaging and enriched calling.

Enhanced phonebook includes contact information with presence support, which means that users will be able to see who is available and how they prefer to communicate in the phonebook. Contacts will have to give their permission for it to work. Enriched calling will, for example, make content sharing during a voice call a possibility, and enhanced messaging includes chat.

"These are services that in many cases are already available on the Internet, and when we talk to users it's something they want on the mobile phone as well," said Jörgen Lantto, vice president, Portfolio Management and Technology, Business Unit Multimedia at Ericsson.

About 30 operators and vendors currently support the initiative, including all the major mobile phone vendors. Having Nokia and the rest onboard is a must, according to Lantto. Operator members include AT&T, France Telecom/Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and NTT DoCoMo.

When the initiative was launched, the first services where meant to be introduced before the end of the year, but now the first interoperable RCS services are set to be launched in mid 2009.

"The plan was always to make RCS a part of an existing standards organization, and now everyone agrees that GSM Association is the right one, but it has taken some time to get it all in place," said Lantto.

On the other hand the delay has meant that the initiative has gotten wider support from vendors and operators, which in the end will benefit the rollout, according to Lantto.

So why should consumers care about RCS services, when they can already use existing Internet-based ones? Standardization is key, according to Lantto. Most Internet services are proprietary, and closed off in separate islands. Using standards will make life easier for users. "Just like SMS you won't have to think about which service your friends are using," said Lantto.

What the industry has learned from past failures, including push-to-talk, is that it's very difficult to get something like this off the ground if it's supported by just one operator in one country, said Lantto.

The next step toward launching the services is testing planned to take place in Helsinki at the end of September, hosted by TeliaSonera. The technical specification is frozen, and in Helsinki everyone will get together to verify that it works, according to Graham Trickey, senior director in charge of RCS at GSM Association.

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