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T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T have reportedly killed their RCS joint venture

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Long, long ago, in the far-off year 2019, the four (at the time) US carriers came together to announce a single partnership. They would work together on a new Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative, or CCMI, that promised interoperability for an RCS Universal Profile-based messaging standard. Originally set to be launched in 2020, we hadn’t heard very much about it for some time. According to a new report, there’s a good reason for that: The CCMI is dead.

The news comes from Light Reading — It’s a blog you may not have heard of, but the site’s analysis and reports of network happenings and 5G are almost always spot-on, and we trust them implicitly. According to the report, the now three US carriers have abandoned the RCS-based project.

Although the company handling the logistics behind the cross-carrier effort claims that it’s still “continuing to move forward with preparations,” a Verizon spokesperson told Light Reading that “the owners of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative decided to end the joint venture effort.” We reached out to further confirm these details with the folks that handled the 2019 announcement, but they did not immediately respond for comment. (Also, Sprint handled that, and they kind of don’t exist now, so we’ll see if they even answer.)

In case this all feels like a jumble of word salad so far, we have a detailed explainer about RCS Messaging. But in short, there’s a messaging standard called RCS that allows for enhanced messaging — think of it as the successor to SMS, which we’re still using a whole lot here in the US. It supports things like read receipts, higher quality media, and better group conversations, but it doesn’t just work on its own like a normal chat app that connects to centralized servers. As it was designed, RCS allows for each carrier network to spin up its own slightly different version and interconnect them — at least, so long as they’re all compatible with the Universal Profile standards. Before the CCMI, different carriers had their own systems (which could be pretty insecure) and some didn’t work with others, so you only got the benefits of RCS messaging in specific apps and when talking to people inside your specific carrier network, which is pretty dumb.

The CCMI essentially promised that the carriers would all make their implementations cross-compatible — at the time, through what sounded like a jointly developed app. That would have meant someone on AT&T could spin up an RCS-based group conversation with friends on T-Mobile and Verizon through this app and enjoy all the benefits of the new messaging standard in inter-carrier communications. But, sad trombone noises, this latest change means those plans are dead.

RCS “Chat” messaging in the Google Messages app.

This may seem like bad news, but things have changed since 2019. In the time since the CCMI was announced, Google leapfrogged the carrier’s selfish dithering and rolled out its own RCS messaging solution via the Messages app, all connected to its Jibe network (though it will use your carrier network if it’s Universal Profile-compatible). It’s a move that means customers don’t have to wait on their carriers to start the work they should have done five years ago. More recently, T-Mobile has essentially handed the reins for its whole network messaging solution to Google by adopting Messages as the default SMS app for all T-Mobile phones, connecting all its customers to Google’s RCS network.

Given what has and hasn’t succeeded when it comes to RCS messaging, what we’d like to see is for Verizon and AT&T to follow T-Mobile, give up on their own stupid standards, and simply adopt Google’s RCS Messaging — either by connecting their chat apps to Google’s Jibe network somehow or by adopting the Messages app as sanctioned solutions, as T-Mobile did. But in the meantime, there’s nothing to prevent customers on either network from just installing the Messages app themselves and bypassing the carrier mess altogether — especially since it sounds like the carriers have given up on fixing it.

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