Real Time Communications Featured Article

Are RCS and VoLTE in a Race to the Bottom While OTT Rises to the Top?

June 30, 2015

Rich Communication Services (RCS) offer subscribers an innovative set of features designed to enhance the capabilities of SMS and MMS technologies. Some of the main features that RCS offers include enhanced phonebook, messaging and calling features.

Meanwhile, Voice over LTE (News - Alert), or VoLTE, is what happens when your carriers allow you to place a phone call over your LTE connection instead of the more common voice networks. VoLTE has the ability to use more bandwidth to make phone calls resulting in higher quality audio, referred to as HD audio.

Toward the end of 2014, we began to see the major carriers in the U.S. start to offer VoLTE services. In fact, Verizon and AT&T are collaborating to allow VoLTE wireless calls between their two networks under plans that expect to deliver the expanded services to their customers this year. In order to take advantage of this you need a VoLTE capable device as does the person on the other end.

One of the major questions being asked today is whether OTT services pose a real threat to RCS and VoLTE. Since OTT services are provided by third parties and carried “over the top” of operators' networks, the result is little to no revenue for the operator. These services are downloaded from app stores, such as Google Play or iTunes.

With the rise of OTT messaging services like WhatsApp, Skype, Snapchat and messaging within social media such as Facebook and Twitter, even though annual, global message volumes continue to grow, SMS is looking like a service on the decline. RCS has the significant advantage of working across networks and devices, unlike OTT services that typically can be used only by those subscribers who have downloaded the necessary app to their device.


Services such as Skype and Snapchat were unheard of just a few years ago however they now distribute millions of messages. We are seeing service utilization change as new OTT services come to market and users move to the most popular service, at the best price with the best experience. 

The word “free” is a powerful incentive for a lot of people, it is with this in mind that users have found compelling OTT alternatives that are often free to use. On the other hand, they have also created a layer of confusion for users who now also have to consider which application to use when they contact certain people.

They have to ask themselves if the person is on Facebook messaging, WhatsApp, or Skype. It has created a more fragmented proposition than classic, operator-provided SMS which users know they can use to message anyone on any mobile network anywhere in the world.

As we see more operators offer RCS and VoLTE services to their customers, it comes at a cost. By providing services that run on LTE networks, people begin to consume their data plans. While some carriers offer unlimited talk and text options, most people feel that they do not need to spend extra money only to find that they have exceeded their limit and are now playing more.

If you can have a video chat with someone for free, why would you pay to send an SMS? As I said, people like the word free and because of it, they are willing to put up with lesser quality if it still provides them with a connection. So, while RCS and VoLTE are competing with each other is it really a race to the bottom while OTT messaging apps continue to gain more popularity and rise to the top?

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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