RCS Messaging: Complete Guide
SMS and MMS services have long been a staple of traditional text messaging. However, in an age where feature-rich text messaging apps provide a better texting experience, the obvious technical limitations of both SMS and MMS are gradually revealing how ancient the conventional messaging protocols have become. Having foreseen their eventual demise, the telecommunications industry—led by the tech giant Google—has been working on (and slowly introducing in select countries) a new protocol in RCS messaging (rich communication services).
RCS texting is said to eventually replace SMS and MMS as the default communication standard. Despite all its technical limitations (160 characters, no file attachments and so on), SMS still remains popular as ever. However, its Internet-based rival messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp, Messenger, Viber) have long surpassed SMS in terms of functionality. Combine that with the fact that text messaging apps do not carry any charges (other than Internet data) and it is no wonder why users are slowly migrating away from SMS.
What is RCS Messaging?
RCS is a new protocol between telecom operators and mobile phones that is set to replace SMS and MMS messaging. RCS messaging is a much more interactive messaging protocol that resembles current text messaging apps in functionality and the features it can offer. Some of the key features are longer texts, ability to attach media files, group chats, video calls, typing indicators and read receipts. RCS essentially serves to be an upgrade over SMS that will vastly improve the messaging capabilities of your phone’s built-in, default message app.
RCS was first introduced in 2007 but it did not take off as expected. In 2008, GSM Association (GSMA)—the global trade body of mobile network operators—took over the project to handle its gradual integration. However, it was not until 2016 that GSMA developed the Universal Profile for RCS—the set of standards required for RCS implementation on mobile devices.
Since then the development of RCS has stagnated quite a bit as it was left up to mobile phone networks’ discretion. Basically, mobile phone networks were handed the responsibility to support and handle RCS messaging but only a few of them acted on it at that point.
That is of course not to say that RCS was not supported by these networks. On the contrary, it was widely supported by most devices and software, and was available on the default Messages app on Android. Since SMS and MMS show no signs of slowing down (97% smartphone owners still use SMS to send text messages), RCS implementation and support is seen as low priority currently.
Due to this, in 2019 Google decided to take the matter into its own hands, enabling RCS implementation on Google/Android devices through its servers rather than mobile phone networks’ servers. However, if a certain network supports RCS, Google will allow said network to use its own servers to transfer messages.
Google’s involvement allows to roll out RCS messaging on a wider scale and to finally bring a new, enhanced and all-encompassing messaging platform for Android devices, which have sought an upgrade to their default messaging app for a long time.
RCS Chat is an RCS Universal Profile developed by Google and is Google’s own version of an internet-based messaging app similar to Apple’s iMessage or Facebook’s Messenger/WhatsApp. Fortunately for Android users, Chat will not be a standalone app but instead will replace the default messaging app on Android devices. It is important to mention that Google’s RCS Chat will be exclusive to Android devices only.
In addition to the features we have discussed above, RCS Chat also has the ability to tell whether the message comes from a verified number. Google is diligently working with businesses to add more useful features to Chat for a more refined communication and texting experience. Moreover, unlike the default Messages app now, Google’s RCS Chat will rely completely on data connection as opposed to cellular connection. It is also cross-platform, meaning it can work across multiple devices without any limitations.
The only technical downside to Chat currently is that it does not provide end-to-end encryption like its counterparts (e.g. iMessage). Although the support for RCS has not been widespread for a long time, Google has successfully got 55 mobile carriers, 11 smartphone manufacturers and Microsoft onboard to support Chat.
Verizon’s rollout of RCS has been pretty slow and only a select few devices support RCS Chat. Verizon RCS launched fully functioning on exactly two Google devices: Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL. A few months later two more devices were added with RCS support: Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. The Google devices use Google’s Jibe servers for RCS, whereas the Samsung devices use Verizon’s own servers.
The biggest downside with Verizon’s RCS is that even though they employ the Universal Profile, RCS does not work between different carriers using the mentioned devices. Instead messages will revert back to SMS or MMS if a message is sent to a device the carrier of which does not support RCS.
Does Verizon Support RCS Messaging?
Verizon does indeed have support RCS. However, Verizon’s RCS messaging is very limited right now and available strictly on a very few mobile devices.
T-Mobile has always been at the forefront of RCS support. The company has publicly stated that it is committed to RCS Chat and their support extends to the following mobile devices so far: Samsung’s Galaxy S8, S8+, S8 Active, Note 8, Note 7, S7 and S7 Edge. There are plans to expand T-Mobile RCS messaging support to newer phones in 2019.
AT&T has its version of RCS messaging that does not conform to the Universal Profile that Google is pushing. But AT&T, just like most carriers, is slowly moving towards a new platform. There are no specific mobile devices that have the AT&T RCS feature yet and the company has not tried to identify them either.
Enhanced messaging has never been Android’s strongest suit. There are couple of factors playing into it, most important of which is that users have long found better texting experience in third-party services like WhatsApp or Messenger. Whereas Apple developed its own enhanced messaging system in iMessage, Android fell very far behind its main competitor in that regard. This is where RCS comes into play as it is sooner or later going to replace SMS as the main channel of text communication on Android devices.
What is RCS on Android?
RCS is the heralded successor to SMS on Android devices and Android’s own take on an enhanced messaging system. It is very much like the Android equivalent of Apple’s iMessage. RCS messaging on Android will bring that feature-rich texting experience to Android’s default Messages app that users have long sought now and usually have found in third-party services. The adoption of the Universal Profile will enable Android RCS messaging across all mobile devices that come with the Google-owned operating system. It will not, however, work cross-platform between Android and iPhone devices, as Apple phones do not have RCS support (though that is expected to change soon too).