Summary:

The three biggest mobile operators in Spain have all launched Joyn, the consumer-facing brand name for Rich Communications Services. But, with entrenched over-the-top rivals such as WhatsApp, is this long-gestating platform too late?

Joyn

It’s finally here: the saviour of the mobile industry, Joyn, also known as Rich Communications Services or RCS. Industry body the GSMA said back at Mobile World Congress in February that all the big carriers would be backing it, and now Spain’s big three – Movistar (Telefonica), Orange and Vodafone – have launched it for their customers.

Joyn (let’s just call it that, given it’s the brand name) lets customers IM each other and ‘enrich’ voice calls by tossing each other videos and files mid-conversation. It’s operator-agnostic, in the sense that you only need to be on an operator that offers it, regardless of the country, and Spain’s the first country in the world where the biggest operators all offer it.

Vodafone Germany also has it, as will Deutsche Telekom from December. In the U.S., MetroPCS has also introduced Joyn.

The GSMA says VoIP and IP video-calling is on the horizon too, as a function of Joyn. Here’s some marketing from GSMA chief marketing officer Michael O’Hara:

“This initial implementation of a new technology clearly required a major effort and strong leadership in the alignment of the ecosystem of manufacturers, developers and integrators, and operators. Consumers across the world will benefit from the leading efforts of these three operators in Spain.”

Still struggling to envision what sort of thing we’re talking about? Here’s a perky video that demonstrates the file-sharing capabilities of Joyn:

All this is based on the same embedded-deep-in-the-network IMS architecture as Voice over LTE. You need a special Android app to use it at the moment, although there should soon be ‘Joyn-embedded’ devices coming onto the market in early 2013. As it’s IP-based, of course, you can use Joyn services through the cellular network or through Wi-Fi.

Those Joyn-embedded handsets have to undergo rigorous interoperability testing and, once they’ve passed, you will know them by the bright yellow Joyn logo that shows up when you power the handset on. The same logo will be displayed next to contacts’ names in your phonebook

Why?

In case you can’t already tell, all this represents a severely major effort on the part of the carrier industry to get its act together. Why? Because the operators want to stay relevant.

The question is, are they already too late?

The last year or two has seen all sorts of seemingly self-defeating apps come out of major carriers – T-Mobile USA’s Bobsled, Telefonica’s Tu Me and, most recently, Orange’s Libon. These apps all offer free voice and messaging, and they offer it to any customer of any network.

In every one of these cases, the aim has been to stop customers thinking of services like WhatsApp and start remembering their operator again. The carriers have belatedly woken up to the fact that their customers increasingly think of them as flat-rate data providers, and that scares the living daylights out of them. There’s no differentiation anymore.

Now, the industry may just be pulling itself together. That fact alone betrays their desperation – it’s not like some players haven’t tried this sort of thing before (for a stunningly downbeat assessment of IMS’s chances a couple of years back, check out this 2010 post from Disruptive Analysis’s Dean Bubley).

The fundamental problem is that users already have these services. People are already invested in WhatsApp and Skype. The operators are now counting on Joyn becoming so ubiquitous that late adopters pick it up en masse, and it becomes a new standard in terms of usage as well as installation.

Do they themselves believe in it? Maybe. One might even look at Tu Me, Bobsled and Libon and see these ‘over-the-top’ services as a sign that the operators launching them don’t really have faith that Joyn will take off.

This is not to say that Joyn won’t be a success. These are huge companies we’re talking about, and if they manage to keep their my-enemy’s-enemy alliance together, they’ve got a lot of clout. But, in the worst-case scenario (for them), we’re looking at a last gasp.

Comments have been disabled for this post