01 May 2018
| James Pearce
Vodafone Carrier Services CEO Brian Fitzpatrick talks about the carrier's messaging strategy
Cast your mind back to February, 2013. A hot-air balloon
crashed into the Egyptian city of Luxor. The Solomon Islands
earthquake struck the Australian coast. And the GSMA –
the mobile industry association – launched what it
hoped would be a revolutionary technology that could help shake
up the messaging industry.
Joyn – the pre-cursor to Rich Communication
Services – was unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2013
and was soon adopted by the likes of Orange in France. But
adoption, in general, was slow and Joyn soon disappeared.
Another shift that occurred in 2013 was Vodafone launched
its new wholesale carrier division, Vodafone Carrier Services,
and it is this part of one of the world’s largest
telcos that is hoping to drive RCS adoption.
Brian Fitzpatrick, the man who has led VCS since it was
launched at International Telecoms Week in 2013, believes that
RCS is bringing the "sexy" back to messaging and SMS.
"The RCS capability enhances messaging. It makes it sexier.
I can only see the upside from it," he told Capacity in a
recent interview to commemorate five years of Vodafone Carrier
Vodafone has been a noticeable backer of RCS. It first began
rolling out the service as early as 2014, creating an offering
for Android users across the UK alongside a Vodafone app called
At the time, Vodafone explained what it saw as the benefits
of RCS: "Messaging through data has lots of plus points. Things
like sending picture messages over the web instead of via MMS,
or sending and receiving international texts at no extra
charge. When people start using it, they will see that it can
save them money – each text message is only a couple
of kilobytes in size, so it’s tiny compared to our
data allowances. Your messaging experience will also be richer
– you can add pictures, emoticons, locations, videos
The thing is, the messaging landscape has changed
dramatically since 2013. By this point, WhatsApp was already
live and, according to a December 2013 blog post, it had 400
million active users of the service per month. The following
year it was bought by Facebook for $19 billion. Since then, the
OTT messaging service has seen its user numbers almost
quadruple – it was 1.5 billion at the end of 2017.
Fitzpatrick admits the OTT’s have had
noticeable impact on the industry as a whole, saying: "Over the
last five years by far the biggest change has been the
influence and activity of the OTTs. Not from a naïve
perspective but they have taken a very dominant position in
shaping how we operate in the market. Five years ago if you
asked us we would have had a different perspective. They have
helped the market by raising the bar for performance and
changing the economics at a per unit level that we need to
It is another OTT that is seen as one of the key drivers of
RCS, however, and that is Google. In 2015, Google bought a New
York company, Jibe, for an undisclosed sum with the idea that
it could relaunch its messaging effort.
Google’s Android is the dominant mobile
operating system across most of the world, with a market share
that hovers around 82-87%, according to IDC, showing how
important its adoption of RCS could be to the service.
"Some of the bigger players are getting involved in RCS,"
Fitzpatrick adds. "I’d put us in that category,
along with Google. People have seen P2P declining with A2P
becoming a focus and the ability to enhance it is clear when
"We found that in its beginning forms, the focus we have put
on it have yielded us tremendous value inside of our footprint.
We have proven to ourselves by applying that focus that the
likes of RCS and other technologies that will present
themselves in years to come and that is something to stay
Overall, messaging remains one of Vodafone’s
core areas of focus, alongside voice and what Fitzpatrick
labels as "infrastructure" – itself split into subsea
cables, national backhaul and local access services.
Since it launched five years ago, VCS has launched an
integrated, centralised messaging platform which it calls the
Vodafone Messaging Hub. This, he adds, is a unique offering for
the carrier because it "operates as a single front door into
the Vodafone global footprint."
"Vodafone was quite a difficult organisation to deal with
five years ago because we operated as 26 separate companies,"
he explains, talking about the fact that prior to VCS wholesale
services fell under the control of Vodafone
Group’s local operations.
"We saw that as an opportunity not just for ourselves but as
a way to enhance the relationship we had with the rest of our
peers in the industry by centralising into one platform and
providing that single way in. That helped us address things
like revenue loss through grey routes by giving us better
controls. It enhances customer value for our consumer
customers, but also any mobile operators we work with through
P2P or A2P messaging."
Application-to-peer messaging is the saviour for the
messaging industry, he adds, given the decline of P2P messaging
in the face of OTT services. The opportunity here is big, he
claims, and so Vodafone is seeking new partners to continue its
capitalisation of this opportunity.
"We are a firm believer that the A2P messaging market will
continue to evolve in a very positive way. We are one of the
few investors – we have our own RCS platform and
we’re actively looking at partnerships around the
world at both a carrier and enterprise level. We firmly believe
that that is going to evolve and enhance the A2P market space
for quite a few years to come."
Vodafone Carrier Services,