Vendors, Operators Line up Behind Mobile Services Push

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Mobile operators Bouygues Telecom, Orange, SFR and Telefónica are planning to trial mobile services using Rich Communications Suite (RCS), which is shaping up be one of the hot topics at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

RCS is a set of features originating from IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) standards, which is a framework for delivering IP (Internet Protocol) based services in fixed and mobile networks. Using RCS, operators are, for example, planning to offer users an enhanced phone book that includes contact information and presence support -- users will be able to see who is available and how they prefer to communicate. Users will also be able to share multimedia content during calls and instant messaging sessions.

French operators Bouygues Telecom, Orange, SFR are working together and will start a user trial during the second half of the year, they announced on Wednesday. Telefónica is working with Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent on another RCS user trial, and will demonstrate services live at Mobile World Congress.

Mobile operators have to start looking at new services and revenue streams because telephony and SMS (Short Message Service) are not growing the way they used to, according to Paolo Pescatore, analyst at CCS Insight.

Operators working together on the launch of RCS is key. During the last couple of years they've spent too much time fighting with each other, according to Håkan Djuphammar, head of systems architecture at Ericsson.

When, for example, MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) was launched, some operators decided to go at it alone, which resulted in subscribers not being able to send messages to users on other operators. Therefore, the feeling was that the service didn't work, and usage didn't take off, according to Djuphammar. "But now operators have once again realized the value of working together on communication services," he said.

Tight integration with phones for a simple user experience and interoperability among devices and operators will let users communicate with all their contacts, and ensure a rapid and large user adoption, according to the French operators.

By working together operators can surpass existing Internet based platforms for instant messaging, Djuphammar said.

The RCS initiative was first announced at Mobile World Congress last year. In September, the GSM Association took charge of the development, which has resulted in more companies getting on board, according to Djuphammar.

It is supported by the big phone makers, equipment vendors and operators including AT&T, Telecom Italia, NTT DoCoMo in addition to the French operators.

The original plan was to get services out by the end of 2008. In September Ericsson said mid-2009, and now the plan calls for services to be available in 2009, according to statements from Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent.

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