Orange Romania said it has become the first operator in the France-based Orange Group to provide the Chat Messages service. The new service, which is available to all customers with the Android Messages app, has messaging features that were developed with Google and uses the RCS (Rich Communications Services) standard.
Android Messages users can see in real time when their interlocutors type and read their messages; can send high-resolution images and video content; can transmit emojis, GIFs, stickers, and audio messages; can share their location, and can create chat groups with family and friends if those interlocutors are also Orange subscribers who are also using Chat Messages. Chat Messages is currently active on Nokia 3, Orange Dive 72, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, Moto E4, Moto Z2 Play and Blackberry KEYone. The app is also available to all Orange customers with Android phones, operating system 4.4, Kitkat or higher. The Android Messages app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
Access to Chat Messages, which works over cellular or Wi-Fi, is not charged, but data traffic is charged according to the tariff plan. Customers using Chat Messages can even communicate with those who do not have Android Messages on their phone as the technology will send the message as SMS when needed. So, regardless of the used technology, messages will always reach their destination. All Chat Messages or SMS are kept in the same place, grouped into contacts. The service will continue to be developed, and new functionalities and services provided by third parties will be added in the near future.
The Google-supported RCS messaging standard is spreading worldwide, with more and more operators making their rich text messages compatible with RCS, and more and more devices coming with Android Messages installed as the default messaging app. This trend is yet another indicator of a general transition away from SMS to other technologies that better support the kinds of interactive features that users are demanding—sending pictures, sounds, and videos, as well as emojis and other symbols and images.
Of course, as we have extensively reported, vast numbers of mobile phone users have already opted to use OTT messaging services such as WhatsApp instead of the native apps on their devices or the services offered by their MNOs. In this climate, operators continue to look for any way to retain messaging revenue. Branding a non-traditional messaging service has been, and still is, one of those ways.
Orange is one of the worldwide operators that have partnered with Google to embrace the RCS standard, and one of the outgrowths of this move is the Chat Messages service launched by Orange Romania. It is clearly an attempt to brand rich-featured messaging and thereby keep users within Orange Romania’s ecosystem.
Insofar as Orange will derive revenue from the data used by Chat Messages, it will be profitable. However, the same would be true for any messaging app (unless the data were, as is often the case, zero-rated by the operator). So the question arises: Why create a messaging service that is similar to what is already offered by Android Messaging and is free of charge to the user, except for the data? The answer would seem to be that by creating a proprietary messaging service, Orange Romania expects to bolster its retention efforts and, generally speaking, burnish its brand. Perhaps if Chat Messages uses more data than competitor OTTs, Orange could make more revenue with it, but if that were the case, users could be expected to become aware of that fact sooner rather than later and stop using the service. It should also be pointed out that the limited number of eligible devices, at this point, could limit the uptake of Chat Messages.