Roads made from recycled plastic are paving the way to a greener tomorrow

Roads laid with asphalt are so 20th century. They’re unsustainable, brittle and they contribute over 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide around the world each year. 

Construction company, VolkerWessels, is using recycled plastic bottles to pave the roads. Lightweight and easily installed, the roads are built to last three times longer. 

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Your next device could run on a network called LTE-U, thanks to T-Mobile

Why it matters to you

LTE-U adds additional bandwidth to your network, which could mean faster, smoother connections.

T-Mobile is tapping into a new resource. On Wednesday, the Bellevue-based mobile service provider announced the deployment of a new technology called LTE-U, and it’s hoping that it’ll provide a greater edge over competitors like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint when it comes to network capabilities.

So what exactly is LTE-U? It’s a newly approved (the Federal Communications Commission gave it the green light on Wednesday) variant of the 4G LTE network that actually shares radio frequencies with radio routers and Bluetooth headphones. It basically adds additional bandwidth to your network, which could mean faster, smoother connections. And just yesterday, Nokia and Ericsson were given permission to start deploying LTE-U devices, something T-Mobile has been quick to take advantage of.

MoreSprint still wants to merge with T-Mobile so it can take on Verizon and AT&T

T-Mobile says that its customers will be able to leverage “the first 20 MHz of underutilized unlicensed spectrum on the 5GHz band and use it for additional LTE capacity” with its new mobile data.

“T-Mobile’s network is second to none, with more capacity per customer than the Duopoly … and LTE-U will only accelerate our lead,” said Neville Ray, CTO at T-Mobile. “T-Mobile’s built a track record of introducing new innovations first, including deploying more LTE Advanced technologies than anyone in the U.S. All that innovation means one thing — a fantastic customer experience.”

The Un-carrier has actually been testing LTE-U equipment since late last year, but now that the FCC has agreed that LTE-U can work in tandem with Wi-Fi technologies, the floodgates have been opened.

“We continue to push the boundaries of bringing new technologies in the unlicensed arena. Nokia is committed to working alongside T-Mobile to bring new solutions to market,” Ricky Corker, Nokia EVP and Head of North America said. “We stand ready to enhance T-Mobile’s leadership proposition and show what the future of mobile communications can be for Un-carrier customers.”

Texting 2.0: Google rebrands Messenger to support next-gen SMS

Why it matters to you

RCS is the next standard of texting, and Google’s rounding up the carriers to adhere to the universal platform. That means your texting experience is about to get a whole lot better.

Following Sprint, Rogers, and Telenor, four new telecommunications providers will now support Google’s RCS Jibe platform: Vodafone Group, Globe Telecom, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom. To enforce a seamless experience on these networks, Google is also rebranding Messenger, the default texting application on some Android devices, to Android Messages.

RCS, or Rich Communication Services, is the follow-up to SMS and MMS. RCS lets users send higher-quality picture messages, participate in group chat, share their current location, and initiate video calls. It supports read receipts, typing indicators, and can even allow text participants to share media and other information while in a telephone conversation. It essentially brings texting up to speed with features available on instant messaging services like Facebook Messenger.

More: Google, Telenor to bring RCS messaging to more than 200 million subscribers

RCS implementation requires carrier support, but while carriers have been using the platform for some time now, they have not adhered to the universal standard. Google’s Jibe service aligns with the universal RCS profile, and it provides cloud and hub services to make it easier for carriers to adopt and roll out.

Orange S.A. has around 263 million customers worldwide, and Globe has about 48.4 million. Deutsche Telekom is the majority shareholder of T-Mobile, and also the parent company of numerous other telecommunications service providers. Vodafone also has a large presence, with networks in 26 countries.

T-Mobile has not officially announced support for RCS with Jibe yet, but the company’s CTO has said the “un-carrier” will support the platform some time this year.

Google’s says its partnership with these telecommunication providers represent more than a billion subscribers. There are 27 manufacturers and carriers in total launching RCS with Google.

“These partners have also committed to interconnecting through the Jibe RCS hub so that RCS messages are delivered to subscribers across carrier networks, helping RCS messaging become truly universal,” writes Amir Sarhangi, head of RCS at Google.

Android Messages

As Android owners may know, there has never been a universal texting application on Android devices. Google Messenger, which supports SMS, MMS, and RCS, comes pre-installed on many Android smartphones, but there’s usually a texting app from the carrier or manufacturer present as well, like AT&T Messages and Samsung Messages.

To unify this experience, Google is rebranding Messenger to Android Messages. The tech giant said these telecom partners will enable it as the default texting application to bring RCS to subscribers.

More: Samsung wants to bring text messaging into the 21st century with acquisition of RCS

To make sure Android devices can enjoy all the features RCS offers, Google is also working with the following manufacturers to make Android Messages the default messaging app on their smartphones: LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, Micromax, Nokia, Archos, BQ, Cherry Mobile, Condor, Fly, General Mobile, Lanix, LeEco, Lava, Kyocera, MyPhone, QMobile, Symphony, and Wiko. More partners will be added in the future, and Android Messages will be the default texting app on Google’s Pixel and Android One devices as well.

RCS for businesses

Businesses have been using SMS to reach out to customers for quite some time. For example, your airline may send you a text with flight information, or a food service like Seamless may message you that your food’s on the way. Customers usually can’t do much else with these texts, and Google’s not giving up the chance to get these businesses to upgrade the messaging experience.

The company is launching an Early Access Program for businesses to learn and build with Jibe, so that their texts can offer richer information to customers as more and more carriers adopt the universal RCS profile.

“A message from your airline reminding you to check in for a flight can now take advantage of rich media and interactivity to provide a full check-in experience, complete with boarding pass, visual flight updates, and terminal maps on demand, all directly within the messaging experience,” Sarhangi said. “Businesses can also have a branded messaging experience with information about the business and the ability to share content like images, video clips, and GIFs.”

More: Google’s Gboard keyboard on iOS adds new languages, voice typing, and more

The following companies and messaging partners will be the first to partake in Google’s Early Access Program: Virgin Trains, Walgreens, BlaBlaCar, Gamestop, G2A.com, IHG, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Papa Murphy’s, Philips, Sky, Sonic Drive-In, Time Inc., 3C, CLX Communications, Experian Marketing Services, MessageBird, mGage, Mobivity, Movile, Vonage through Nexmo API Platform, OpenMarket, and Waterfall.

Google will be showing off RCS-enabled business messaging at Mobile World Congress next week.

WhatsApp hits 200 million active users in India

Image: BRITTANY HERBERT/MASHABLE

WhatsApp has hit 200 million monthly active users in India as the Facebook-owned service continues its dominance in developing markets. 

India remains the biggest market for WhatsApp, which had 160 million active users in the country last November. Moving forward, Brian Acton, a founder of WhatsApp, said the company will explore ways to contribute to “India’s vision for digital commerce.”

WhatsApp is simple, secure, and its vision is in line with (the government initiative) Digital India,  Acton said. 

He’s on a one-day trip to the country, where he met India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to talk about ways WhatsApp could further help empower people in rural and poor areas, as well as commercial messaging and mobile payments. 

Last year the mobile wallet app Freecharge announced integration with WhatsApp that allows two users to exchange money with them.

“India is a very important country to us, and we’re proud to have 200 million people who use WhatsApp to connect with their friends, family and communities,” Acton said in a press statement. 

The competition 

WhatsApp competes with Hike, an instant messaging app from Kavin Bharti Mittal, son of Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder of India’s largest telecom operator Airtel. 

Hike hasn’t shared how many active users it has, but early last year it said Hike had been downloaded more than 100 million times. Facebook’s marquee social media app had more than 155 million active users in the country as of late October last year. 

Other companies have been looking at India, hoping to lure the world’s second largest internet market. Earlier this week, Microsoft announced a new version of Skype, called Skype Lite which is lighter and could work on slow internet speeds and on phones with less muscle power. 

Challenges and opportunities 

WhatsApp has its own challenges, too. It has been billed as one of the biggest sources for spreading of fake news and other misleading information in the country. But for now, its dominance in India remains unrivaled. 

The “Ping! Ping! Ping!” chime of WhatsApp notifications can be heard in all corners of the country, whether you’re on a public bus, or a fish market. So much so that on the New Year’s eve alone, more that 14 billion messages were exchanged. 

Our 5 favorite tech deals on Amazon right now

Amazon has some killer deals listed today — so instead of highlighting just one, we’ve handpicked the very best tech deals on the site.

After scouring through the masses, we’ve rounded up the five hottest tech deals that together provide over $300 in savings with discounts of up to 55 percent off. Check out the list below to see which items are on sale today and why they’re worth considering.

Livestream Memo Live Event Camera

Livestream Memo Live Event Camera

Shoot professional-level Facebook Live videos with the Memo Live Event Camera from Livestream that normally retails for $400 but is currently discounted to $350 with Amazon coupon code applied. Paired with an iOS device, you can remotely control it as if it’s a personal cameraman, allowing you to zoom into subjects and pan around a frame. We got our hands on the Memo back in November and thought it was an easy-to-use way to shoot polished live broadcast. Highlights include pan and zoom function, a wide angle lens, and the fact that it automatically adjusts for the best exposure.

The camera has all the makings of an action cam complete with a 12.4-megapixel Sony 4K sensor that delivers a 16:9, 3,840 x 2,160-pixel resolution at 30 frames per second and the A9SE chipset from Ambarella. The 4K sensor minimizes quality loss, most noticeably when panning and zooming. For mobile pairing, the Mevo uses Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n at 2.4 or 5GHz) for either a direct connection with an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, or via a Wi-Fi network. It also has built-in stereo microphones, and the ability to plug in external audio through the iOS device connected to the camera. Finally, the camera allows you to edit and adjust directly from your mobile screen. Pinch to zoom to convert a single frame from Mevo into multiple live shots, use a finger tap to make edits, or drag two fingers to pan.

The Memo Live Event Camera is currently available for $350 on Amazon giving you a 13 percent or $50 discount.

$350 an Amazon

Peri Duo for iPhone 6/6S

91WoPERI Duo for iPhone 6 6s

Enjoy a new way to truly take your music anywhere and turn any room our outdoor space into an entertainment area with a Peri Duo for iPhone 6 and 6S, currently discounted 34 percent on Amazon. The iPhone accessory provides not just enhanced sound quality but also the battery needed to keep your phone and music performing perfectly. The device combines a hi-fidelity speaker with 10 times the volume of your iPhone and allows you to stream music wirelessly via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The case also doubles as a power bank giving you 120 percent more life from your iPhone, with the 2900mAh battery, meaning you get 60 hours of music, 13 hours of HD video or 16 hours of talk time.

More: Peri Unveils A Wi-Fi Connected Multi-Speaker System, Gears For Duo Launch

The Peri Duo offer four audio modes: Docked, Bluetooth, Home Wi-Fi, and Away Wi-fi. In docked mode, you can stream music seamlessly using a lightning connector, while the Bluetooth mode allows you to play music or take phone calls via a wireless Bluetooth audio connection. In Home Wi-Fi mode you can attach the Duo to a home network to stream audio to the Duo speakers via Airplay, DLNA, or Spotify Connect, and with the Away Wi-Fi mode you can play high-resolution audio via a direct Wi-Fi connection between the iPhone and Duo, or use the Duo to create a private Wi-Fi network and stream the same music to connected Peri speakers.

The Peri Duo for iPhone 6/6S is available on Amazon for the discounted price of $125, saving you $65 or 34 percent off the regular retail price of $190.

$125 on Amazon

Arlo Security System

Keep your home and family safe going 100 percent wire-free with the Arlo Security Camera system, currently discounted 46 percent on Amazon and available for only $118 for a limited time. The wireless, wire-free kit is expandable, allowing to you start with one camera, and add as many more as desired. As a smart device, the camera captures clips and sends you alerts whether you’re at home or away, so you always know what’s happening around your home.

More: Arlo Smart Home Security Camera System Review

The smart security system provides exceptional clarity and detail complete with HD cameras that capture sharp 720p video and let you can live stream feeds or watch recordings as videos from your computer, smartphone, or tablet using the compatible, free Arlo iOS or Android Apps. Get up to 1GB secure cloud storage, while you easily view four video streams at the same time and create and schedule smart home rules.

The built-in motion detection feature smartly recognizes movements and sends you alerts via text or email. With night vision capabilities, you can monitor your home and receive motion alerts in poorly lit spaces. And though they’re wireless, you can expect decent battery life out of the system because it is motion activated. It only records and alerts you when motion is detected and remains in low power mode otherwise. The cameras are indoor and outdoor suitable, recording anywhere you need in your home or outdoors, even in the rain.

The starter kit single camera Arlo Security Camera system normally retails for $220 but is currently marked down to only $119 on Amazon, giving you a $101 or 46 percent discount.

$119 on Amazon

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control

Upgrade your entertainment controls with a Logitech Harmony Elite remote control, currently marked down with a $52 discount on Amazon for a limited time. The smart remote allows you to control up to 15 home entertainment and connected home devices with the power of Alexa. Use your voice to control your entertainment devices, or make use of the full-color touchscreen that allows you to simply swipe and tap to control channels, movies, volume, 50 favorite channels, and other smart home devices like Philips Hue lights.

More: Convenience And Versatility At Your Command With Echo And Logitech Harmony Hub

Instead of only controlling one device at a time, Harmony groups your devices into one-touch Activities. For example, select ‘Watch TV’ and the right devices will automatically power on and switch to the proper settings. The sleek remote has motion-activated backlit buttons and works with more than 270,000 devices.

The Logitech Harmony Elite remote control normally retails for $350 but is currently available on Amazon for only $298 giving you a $52 or 15 percent discount.

$298 on Amazon

Anker SoundCore Bluetooth Speaker

Anker SoundCore Bluetooth Speaker

Get industry-leading audio with an Anker SoundCore Bluetooth Speaker, currently discounted 55 percent on Amazon. This is Amazon’s #1 best seller in portable audio and video, and gives you full-bodied stereo through dual high-performance drivers and a patented unique spiral bass port resulting in less than 1 percent total harmonic distortion. In other words, it sounds very clear and crisp for a tiny speaker.

Featuring Bluetooth 4.0 technology, the popular speaker is compatible with all Bluetooth-enabled devices, allowing you to connect to your smartphone or tablet from up to 66 feet away. With built-in SoundCore technology, you can reconnect automatically to the last device used. The speaker also features a built-in mic for hands-free calling and a high capacity Li-ion battery that gives you 24-hour / 500-song playtime — twice as long as some speakers with comparable sound quality. The speaker is built to be compact yet powerful, complete with a unique spiral bass port design that delivers a clear base from a 12.6-ounce device that’s small enough to pick up and throw in a bag.

The Anker SoundCore Bluetooth Speaker normally retails for $80 but is currently discounted to $36 on Amazon, saving you a full 55 percent, or $44.

$36 on Amazon

Samsung’s reputation was among the most damaged of any company last year

Why it matters to you

Samsung is eager to claw back goodwill with its once-loyal customers by introducing safer and more innovative products.

The annual Harris Poll, which measures corporate reputation among tens of thousands of respondents in the United States, found that Samsung suffered one of the biggest hits of any company in 2016. The South Korean technology giant placed 49th in this year’s survey — down from seventh last year and its peak of third in 2015.

The Harris Poll, which has been conducted since 1999, prompts each respondent to rate two companies on a criteria of 20 different attributes. When asked which firm suffered the greatest drop in reputation over the past year, Samsung was the third-most common answer among those surveyed, taking 5 percent of the vote, followed by Volkswagen in second with 9 percent and Wells Fargo taking the top spot with 23 percent.

More: Samsung’s batteries just caught fire, and nearly took a factory with them

The study also offers insights as to the circumstances most likely to lead to negative reputation. “Intentional wrongdoing or illegal actions by corporate leaders” was cited by 85 percent of respondents as the greatest threat to corporate goodwill, trailed closely by “lying or misinterpreting the facts about a product or service” at 83 percent. “Product recall due to contamination” was the seventh-greatest risk, according to the poll, at 65 percent.

In Samsung’s case, the Galaxy Note 7 exploding battery debacle and arrest of vice chairman Lee Jae-Yong following a monthslong investigation stemming from charges of bribery and embezzlement align with the risks, and provide an explanation to the company’s fall from grace.

That said, it could have been much worse. Samsung’s Reputation Quotient score drop of 5.3 points year-over-year is a far cry from Volkswagen’s 20.5-point margin at the start of 2016 as a consequence of the Dieselgate controversy, when the automaker was found to have lied about the emissions levels of millions of its vehicles worldwide. That set an all-time Harris Poll record last year and was only outdone by Wells Fargo’s performance in this most recent study. The banking giant, embattled by a scandal in which it opened millions of unauthorized accounts without customers’ approval, has fallen 20.6 points.

Samsung’s relatively swift recall of the Galaxy Note 7 and announcement of stricter battery safety protocols likely mitigated what could have been an even greater public relations crisis. As the company gears up for the launch of its upcoming flagship Galaxy S8, expected to arrive in the spring, it has repeatedly assured prospective customers that it has learned from its mistakes and immediately taken those lessons to heart in developing future products.

Shine gives up on mobile network ad-block threats, wants to play nice


So much for sticking “nuclear weapons” in carriers’ dumb pipes. Shine, last year’s enfant terrible of mobile ad blocking is pivoting (again!) — in both tone of voice and business model. It’s also rebranding to, er, Rainbow.

So, to keep tabs, since 2011 this Disrupt startup battlefield alum has moved from trying to sell mobile antivirus (Shine Security), to threatening network-level mobile ad blocking (Shine Technologies), to — its latest pivot — touting a permission-based marketing platform (Rainbow), which is slated to launch in “late summer”, according to CRO James Collier, who joined the company last June as a hire from the — duh-duh-duh! — ad industry. You can see exactly where this story is going.

Unsurprisingly then, given its new, emollient incarnation, Rainbow is no longer threatening to cut off the ad industry’s access to mobile users’ eyeballs as payment for its data-sapping crimes. Indeed, Rainbow is abandoning the push for/threat of network-level mobile ad blocking. Which, in any case, looked mostly like a loud-mouthed PR strategy to grab as many ad industry exec eyeballs as possible in the hopes of shaking a business model out of the bushes.

Shine had also only chalked up one full deployment of its network-level ad blocking tech: Caribbean mobile operator Digicel; had zero revenue as it was not charging carriers for deployments; and was arguably on shaky regulatory ground in Europe, given net neutrality laws.

Well, after spending the last six months apparently cosying up to ad agencies to spec out its third business plan, here are those next steps — funded by an undisclosed amount of additional investment from its existing investors, led by Horizon Ventures. (Investors who will clearly be hoping for third time luck at the end of this Rainbow.)

The new idea is to act as an ad verification layer, hosted at the network level (by carrier partners, who get cut in via a revenue share) to help enforce industry standards for so called ‘better ads’. So Rainbow is not going to be coming up with any ‘better ad’ criteria itself; rather it’s leaving that to its new best friends in the ad industry — intending to act, purely, as the verifier of existing/established ad standards programs (such as the IAB’s LEAN initiative).

It will not be charging ad agencies to submit their creative for verification. So this is not a paid-whitelist “acceptable ads” model, as per ad blockers such as AdBlock Plus (though ABP amassed vast numbers of users in the desktop era to make that approach fly vs Rainbow having to start from scratch and convince mobile users it’s worth their while to opt in). The verification process will be open to anyone — although only the ads that pass muster will be viewable to Rainbow opt-ins.

Nor, for the record, is Rainbow intending to focus on ad security considerations. So it will not be guaranteeing that verified ads are malware free, for example. (So no, this is not ‘antivirus for mobile ads’.)

Collier says Rainbow’s ad verification process will involve checking against ad industry standards factors such as the weight of the file; the number of calls the ad makes to render; which CDNs it’s called from; the aspect ratio of the ad to the page; the rate of hertz at which an ad flashes; whether the ‘x’ button (for closing an ad) is clear and present at all times; and whether the ad autoplays or not.

So mostly this is about ad look and feel (annoyance) and mobile data consumption (affordability). (NB: The IAB hasn’t yet published the full list of standards — but the list is due soon, according to Collier.)

Rainbow’s hope is that mobile users will eagerly opt-in, via their carrier, to see only Rainbow-verified ads during mobile web browsing sessions. The pitch to convince them to sign up will involve claims of faster web page load times, reduced data consumption and battery drain, and ads that might be slightly less annoying to see.

Unverified ads will be blocked; though ads in native apps will not be filtered out — or at least, not initially, says Collier. Which does reduce the value proposition pretty substantially given how much time consumers spend in messaging/social apps these days vs browsing the wild mobile web.

However the trade off for consumers is they will have to agree to their mobile operator sharing data about them with Rainbow in order to power its relevancy-based-targeting business (which is its route for monetizing the platform).

Rainbow is hoping to sell ad-related intel to publishers and ad agencies, down the line, and even to social networking giants like Facebook — who Collier notes are hungry for even more signals about what mobile users get up to when outside their walled gardens.

“Facebook has a huge amount of interest in understanding more about the consumer outside of Facebook,” says Collier. “They acquired Atlas, thought they could potentially compete with DoubleClick, it did not work, turned it into an analytics business — have been trying to use FAN [Facebook Audience Network] and [social plugins/cookie] linking to try to understand more about their customers outside Facebook, neither of which have had a particular high level of distribution yet, so there’s all kinds of ways we can help.

“Facebook buys tonnes of data — from everyone,” he adds. “As are other social networking apps seeking to do so too.”

So Rainbow thinks it has spied an opportunity to be another link in the chain of Facebook’s data capture mesh.

This means consumers opting in to Rainbow will be opting for more companies to be able to link their email identity to their mobile web browsing, and to receive more targeted ads (based on their identity and certain demographic factors) in exchange for — possibly — a slightly faster and/or cheaper (in data consumption terms) mobile web browsing experience.

The exact value proposition will likely depend on the carriers. Collier notes, for example, that one partner will be offering to refund all ad-related data costs to consumers who opt in.

Europe is the first focus for the team. The Hutchison Group (whose chairman is a Shine investor) will be deploying Rainbow’s platform in the UK in the next nine months, according to Collier, who also says Italy, Austria, Ireland and Scandinavia are the plan after that.

The company will clearly be leaning heavily on carriers to push the platform — Collier describes it as a “co-marketing” effort (though he won’t specify the exact revenue share with carriers, but maybe the word “co-marketing” offers a bit of a clue there).

In terms of the monetization plan, the aim is to sell premium insights subscription services to agencies and publishers — such as (for agencies) being able to “understand the level of accuracy advertising has”, as Collier puts it, plus other sought for intel around industry issues such as ad spoofing.

For publishers the idea is to offer the ability to target ads at segmented groups of mobile web users, based on factors such as age and gender; as well as the capability to match mobile users’ email identities to email addresses held by publishers (in order to link individual web browsing mobile users to other data a partner might already hold on that person for ad targeting purposes).

So basically the idea is to be able to offer a custom audiences ad-targeting proposition (following a Facebook-style playbook).

While much mobile activity involves social and messaging apps, Collier says users are still clicking on links that can pop them out into the mobile browser from those walled gardens. (Albeit, Facebook has a strategy for closing that escape route down too… )

“For publishers it also means that we can combine that browser identity from a Facebook session with the standard identity of a consumer in a browser session. Same with Twitter browser, Gmail browser, any single sign-on environment that launches its own browser view. We can bind all of those consumers together, and we can overlay data or help to extend the first party data you might have on that consumer, into those environments,” he says. “A lot of content is distributed by social apps and sites, all of which have their own browser sessions to view that content.”

“It’s a real pain-point for advertisers — particularly around measuring reach and frequency effectively. As AOL you can’t do it; you can’t match a Facebook browser session to a standard browser session unless that person is logged in, for instance,” he adds. “It’s extending efficiency and effectiveness because we don’t use standard tracking procedures in order to do that. Really what we’re talking about is helping first parties match back a first party cookie, not third party advertising services.”

It’s not clear whether Rainbow has any patents for this approach. We’ve asked and will update this post with any response. Update: A spokesman said: “We’re not commenting on IP matters” — so it’s unclear whether Rainbow’s approach is defensible. Especially given that multiple adtech players do already have techniques for linking devices with browsing using probabilistic matching.

Google rebrands Messenger to Android Messages for a unified RCS experience

Why it matters to you

RCS is the next standard of texting, and Google’s rounding up the carriers to adhere to the universal platform. That means your texting experience is about to get a whole lot better.

Following Sprint, Rogers, and Telenor, four new telecommunications providers will now support Google’s RCS Jibe platform: Vodafone Group, Globe Telecom, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom. To enforce a seamless experience on these networks, Google is also rebranding Messenger, the default texting application on some Android devices, to Android Messages.

RCS, or Rich Communication Services, is the follow-up to SMS and MMS. RCS lets users send higher-quality picture messages, participate in group chat, share their current location, and initiate video calls. It supports read receipts, typing indicators, and can even allow text participants to share media and other information while in a telephone conversation. It essentially brings texting up to speed with features available on instant messaging services like Facebook Messenger.

More: Google, Telenor to bring RCS messaging to more than 200 million subscribers

RCS implementation requires carrier support, but while carriers have been using the platform for some time now, they have not adhered to the universal standard. Google’s Jibe service aligns with the universal RCS profile, but it provides cloud and hub services to make it easier for carriers to adopt and roll out.

Orange S.A. has around 263 million customers worldwide, and Globe has about 48.4 million. Deutsche Telekom is the majority shareholder of T-Mobile, and also the parent company of numerous other telecommunications service providers. Vodafone also has a large presence, with networks in 26 countries.

T-Mobile has not  officially announced support for RCS with Jibe yet, but the company’s CTO has said the “un-carrier” will support the platform some time this year.

Google’s says its partnership with these telecommunication providers represent more than a billion subscribers. There are 27 manufacturers and carriers in total launching RCS with Google.

“These partners have also committed to interconnecting through the Jibe RCS hub so that RCS messages are delivered to subscribers across carrier networks, helping RCS messaging become truly universal,” writes Amir Sarhangi, head of RCS at Google.

Android Messages

As Android owners may know, there has never been a universal texting application on Android devices. Google Messenger, which supports SMS, MMS, and RCS, comes pre-installed on many Android smartphones, but there’s usually a texting app from the carrier or manufacturer present as well, like AT&T Messages and Samsung Messages.

To unify this experience, Google is rebranding Messenger to Android Messages. The tech giant said these telecom partners will enable it as the default texting application to bring RCS to subscribers.

More: Samsung wants to bring text messaging into the 21st century with acquisition of RCS

To make sure Android devices can enjoy all the features RCS offers, Google is also working with the following manufacturers to make Android Messages the default messaging app on their smartphones: LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, Micromax, Nokia, Archos, BQ, Cherry Mobile, Condor, Fly, General Mobile, Lanix, LeEco, Lava, Kyocera, MyPhone, QMobile, Symphony, and Wiko. More partners will be added in the future, and Android Messages will be the default texting app on Google’s Pixel and Android One devices as well.

RCS for businesses

Businesses have been using SMS to reach out to customers for quite some time. For example, your airline may send you a text with flight information, or a food service like Seamless may message you that your food’s on the way. Customers usually can’t do much else with these texts, and Google’s not giving up the chance to get these businesses to upgrade the messaging experience.

The company is launching an Early Access Program for businesses to learn and build with Jibe, so that their texts can offer richer information to customers as more and more carriers adopt the universal RCS profile.

“A message from your airline reminding you to check in for a flight can now take advantage of rich media and interactivity to provide a full check-in experience, complete with boarding pass, visual flight updates, and terminal maps on demand, all directly within the messaging experience,” Sarhangi said. “Businesses can also have a branded messaging experience with information about the business and the ability to share content like images, video clips, and GIFs.”

More: Google’s Gboard keyboard on iOS adds new languages, voice typing, and more

The following companies and messaging partners will be the first to partake in Google’s Early Access Program: Virgin Trains, Walgreens, BlaBlaCar, Gamestop, G2A.com, IHG, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Papa Murphy’s, Philips, Sky, Sonic Drive-In, Time Inc., 3C, CLX Communications, Experian Marketing Services, MessageBird, mGage, Mobivity, Movile, Vonage through Nexmo API Platform, OpenMarket, and Waterfall.

Google will be showing off RCS-enabled business messaging at Mobile World Congress next week.

RCS, Google’s answer to iMessage, expands to 27 more carriers and OEMs


While messaging apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, Snapchat and WeChat rake in ever more users, features and relationships with key brands, and Apple’s iMessage continues to play strong with iPhone users, Google today announced a big step forward in its own strategy to bring a native, enhanced, native messaging service to more Android devices — a play for Google to help carriers raise their own native messaging game, and stay in the messaging game itself in the future.

Today the Android giant is announcing that 27 more carriers and device manufacturers have signed on to its list of supporting partners for Rich Communications Services (RCS) — an initiative to add more dynamic features like group chat, high-res photo sharing, read receipts and typing indicators as defaults to the basic, native Android Messages SMS chat app, which will now incorporate RCS alongside MMS and SMS services. Additionally, it’s also opening up a new program for brands and messaging providers to develop more enhanced messages for the platform.

Carrier partners include Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Globe, while OEMs now include LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, Micromax, Nokia, Archos, BQ, Cherry Mobile, Condor, Fly, General Mobile, Lanix, LeEco, Lava, Kyocera, MyPhone, QMobile, Symphony and Wiko, in addition to Google’s own Pixel and Android One handsets. It brings the number of subscribers now potentially covered by Android Messages to about 1 billion globally.

The announcement today will mean that these carriers and these handset makers will be preloading Android Messages on new devices to replace the current, standard Messages app. For those handsets already in the market on those carrier networks, users would need to download the new app in an update.

The news is timed in a specific way: we are days away from the big MWC mobile conference in Barcelona, and this is Google’s way of saying it is continuing to making more inroads into that market.

Google’s relationship with mobile carriers has blown hot and cold over the years. In this case, Google is a collaborator and friend, working with carriers to provide a unified service across all their Android devices that doesn’t relegate them to the role of “bit pipe” in the way that OTT apps like WhatsApp do.

But initiatives like Project Fi spell a different fate, where the search giant is constructing and offering complete phone packages to consumers for a fraction of what they pay directly to carriers, potentially threatening these carriers’ bread-and-butter business in the longer term. (Google is adding new features like Voice over LTE support to Project Fi all the time.)

The RCS news, however, is a definite warm wind.

For Google, RCS represents a way of getting control of the messaging experience and enhancing it to compete better against the cadre of popular messaging apps, and the iPhone-native iMessage, and certainly a more watertight way of owning the messaging experience compared to rolling out its own over-the-top messaging apps that compete head to head with the market leaders (see: Allo and Duo).

This is a strong story to sell to carriers, who have found users drop off their messaging networks in favor of other apps, resulting in lost revenues and unused assets in the carriers’ networks. This is a longish-term game for Google, which has been building out its efforts to expand RCS since acquiring Jibe Mobile back in 2015.

Developing better SMS services across multiple operators means that the messages will be interoperable (what you send on one network and handset will be seen that way when received on another network and handset) in the same way that apps are working today but SMS has only managed to in the most pared-down, text-only scenarios. But perhaps more importantly, it will let Google and those carriers start to add other kinds of services and revenue generation on top of basic messaging.

“RCS will upgrade today’s business messaging experience by enabling brands to send more useful and interactive messages,” writes Amir Sarhangi, Google’s head of RCS (who had been the CEO of Jibe back in the day), citing interactive SMS messages for flight-check-ins with boarding passes and terminal maps. “Businesses can also have a branded messaging experience with information about the business and the ability to share content like images, video clips, and gifs.”

To that end, Google is also announcing an Early Access Program for “businesses to learn and build with the technology, influence the roadmap and standards, and be first to offer their customers an upgraded messaging experience,” Sarhangi notes.

Early users include Virgin Trains, Walgreens, BlaBlaCar, Gamestop, G2A.com, IHG, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Naturas, Papa Murphy’s, Philips, Sky, SONIC® Drive-In, Subway, and Time Inc. will work with messaging partners 3C, CLX Communications, Experian Marketing Services, MessageBird, mGage A Vivial Company, Mobivity, Movile, Vonage through Nexmo API Platform, OpenMarket, Waterfall, and Zipwhip to produce RCS messages.

Today’s new customer wins come about a week after Google announced another RCS carrier with significant reach: Norway’s Telenor, which runs several operations across Asia as well as in its home country. Others that have signed on to Google’s RCS include Sprint and Rogers in Canada.

Google also said that it will be showing off examples of RCS messaging at Mobile World Congress next week.

Google to launch a desktop version of Allo messenger

Google’s Allo messenger will soon be easier to use at work, thanks to a new desktop version to complement the mobile app. 

The company’s VP of communications products, Nick Fox, tweeted out a sneak peek at the desktop app in development.

The desktop version looks like it’ll be a web app for Google Chrome. This means it won’t be native as a separate Windows or Mac download, but will work across operating systems — including on Chromebooks, of course. 

Already competing against Line, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and others, Allo is billed as more than just another chat app. It’s integrated with Google Assistant, allowing its AI bot to offer searches, translations and scheduling information within chats.

You can also chat directly with Assistant on Android devices to set alarms and search through photos.

The upcoming release of a desktop app will help Allo grow from its mobile roots to something potentially more useful for power users, or even workplaces. Google hasn’t announced when the app will be available. 

One of the world’s biggest messengers, WhatsApp, struggled for years to come up with a desktop offering to compete with those already on the market. It released WhatsApp for the web in early 2015, before finally making a native app the following year. 

[H/T The Verge]