What is RCS? Everything You Need To Know – March 2024

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Most people, when buying a new phone or setting out to send somebody a text message don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how their messages will be sent. Typically, at least in the US, they simply open the default messaging app and send a message, never giving a thought to whether that’s RCS (rich communication suite), SMS, or some other message type. They also never think about how those things are different and why those differences are important.

Of course, some just utilize an after-market app’s messenger system such as those from Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, or Snapchat. But, many may also have noticed that a significant amount of news has centered around RCS, SMS, and iMessage. And technologies things are, in fact, very different with important distinctions between them.

If you’ve been wondering about that, fortunately, that’s exactly what this article sets out to explain.

What is RCS?


Now, chances are, you’re already utilizing RCS in some form or another if you’re using Google’s default Google Messages app. Or, in fact, if you’re using an aftermarket messaging app installed by your carrier. But, equally likely, you may also still be using SMS, unless you’re on an iPhone.

SMS was first developed in 1992 and introduced as the standard messaging for phones in 1993. It’s still in use on smartphones to a large extent and that’s not least of all because of how iMessage works. We’ll discuss why that is in a moment. But, summarily, SMS is the standard for text-based messages with basic features such as sending in real-time. It’s often paired with MMS for images and other media. Specifically, MMS allows text that’s longer than 160 characters, up to 40 seconds of video, one image, image slideshows, and audio clips.

Conversely, RCS is the next evolution of that universal messaging platform. It was first introduced to the world in 2007 before being taken over by the GSMA in 2008. However, it has only recently been at the forefront of a concerted effort to make it the defacto replacement for SMS.

Google and carriers alike have pushed to bring RCS and its features as the default platform for smartphone messaging. The search giant acquired a company called Jibe Mobile in 2015, spurring one of several starts to implement the technology in place of SMS and MMS.

Jibe Mobile was an RCS back-end company. Put simply, Jibe Mobile was effectively building an effort to sell RCS server solutions as a middleman and working directly with carriers. SMS and MMS would be fallback technologies. However, widespread, widely reported efforts didn’t begin to appear until iMessage was introduced on the iOS platform in 2011 with iOS 8.

This platform’s influence spread to iPhones, Apple Watches, iPads, iPod Touches, Mac computers, and other Apple products. If you’ve ever had a friend complain that your messages show up as “green” on their Apple devices, that’s because they’re using iMessage and you’re using a different platform.

iMessage is basically an internet-based messaging service that only Apple devices can use. Imagine it being like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. It will use the internet for communication, but it will fall back on SMS if no internet connection is available. When a user using iMessage receives an SMS message, that message will show up in a green bubble. This is why any messages from Android phones show up in green bubbles.

What was keeping RCS from being widely adopted

Now, RCS has faced its fair share of challenges too. For instance, while the global association of networking companies, the GSMA, unveiled its Universal Profile to help push carriers and app makers over to RCS in 2016, it hasn’t required support for Universal Profile in order to support RCS. The most recent version is version 2.4 which was released in late 2019. And it doesn’t have that requirement either.

The Universal Profile goes a long way toward ensuring interoperability. It helps by setting standards and features that should be supported via RCS messaging across all carriers and messaging apps. That it isn’t required has been among the biggest issues with regard to RCS replacing SMS entirely.

While everybody involved does appear to want the features and functionality to roll out, they haven’t always been on the same page. Also, they haven’t always adhered to the same set of features or methods for providing those. AT&T and Verizon were prime examples of those carriers initially.

[Updated March, 2024] However, at the time of writing this, Verizon offers RCS through select Samsung devices. If you don’t see the RCS branding on the Verizon site, that’s because the company calls it “Advanced Messaging.” If you’re a Galaxy user on Verizon, you’ll have to opt into the service.

Another factor holding RCS back was Apple’s stubborn stance against the technology. We all know that Apple didn’t want to adopt RCS messaging. Google pushed hard to get Apple to adopt the technology, but it held its ground. This negatively impacted the messaging experience between iPhones and Android phones.

For instance, reactions don’t appear on Android phones even though RCS supports that. Instead, users only see messages about those interactions. Or an emoji sticker or message, depending on the app in question. Similarly, if Android users react to messages, iPhone users won’t see the expected result either.

However, in late 2023, Apple announced that RCS was coming to iOS 18. This is slated to happen later in 2024.

How is RCS better than SMS?

RCS augments the kind of content that you can send to recipients. For example, you have an unlimited character limit, whereas SMS has a 160-character limit. This doesn’t stop with text-based content. RCS allows you to send files up to 100MB in size. This includes images, GIFs, videos, and similar content.

Next, RCS allows you to make IP calls. This technology is also called VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). This allows you to make and receive calls using an internet connection rather than your carrier. For example, you can place calls using your Wi-Fi. RCS lets you use the internet to make both individual and group calls.

The technology supports group chats with full chat features as well as group file transfers, geolocation exchanging, client-to-server and end-to-end encryption, read receipts, delivery receipts, and typing indicators.

Summarily, it brings all of the best of modern chat services to text messaging. This is all while using data connections in a way that’s not wholly dissimilar to SMS. It does also extend to those, not least of all by allowing text messages over Wi-Fi. But also by working via desktop platforms.

Given that the features of RCS go so far beyond SMS or MMS and their similarity to Apple’s iMessage, the differences between RCS and iMessage aren’t necessarily the most important.

What is important to understand is that RCS is a much more advanced solution than SMS. The latter of which is incredibly outdated in terms of both features and related security. Particularly when considering that SMS has no encryption and RCS has client-to-server encryption by default. End-to-end encryption, conversely, is being added by more providers. Among those, the default Android messaging app has had end-to-end encryption since 2021.

However, if you have a rooted device…

One thing to note is that, if you are using a rooted device, then you won’t be able to use RCS. Google will be able to tell if your phone is rooted. When that happens, whatever messages you send will fall back to SMS. So, that’s something you’ll want to keep in mind before rooting your phone.

Drawbacks to using RCS

The primary caveat to using this technology is the fact that these types of messages do require a data connection to work. So if you aren’t on Wi-Fi or an unlimited plan, you will use your mobile data. Those on Wi-Fi or unlimited data plans won’t have to worry. However, if you’re on a limited data plan, then you might see an uptick in your data usage.

Next, it’s worth noting that some apps, such as Google Messages, allow end-to-end encryption. However, in many cases, in order for end-to-end encryption to work, both parties will need to use the same app. So, if you’re using Google Messages, and you’re messaging someone using a third-party messaging platform, then the security will vary.

All of that means that while RCS simply can’t reach its potential, as of this writing. This article will be updated if that changes. And it very well could, if carriers each agree to implement RCS properly, as Verizon plans to, in the near future. But for now, RCS simply isn’t a globally available solution even if it is getting better. Or at least not the solution that it has the potential to be.

How do you know if RCS is enabled on your phone?

Although RCS hasn’t seen a smooth rollout across the board, chances are you’ve already gotten access to it. Firstly, there’s a plethora of carrier-made apps created to roll it out to a broader audience.

Secondly, several tech companies have been bringing RCS to the masses, Google decided to go around carriers because of their hesitancy. This has resulted in the availability of RCS on many phones by default.

That’s because it’s already available in the defacto Android SMS app, Google Messages. So, if you have Google Messages, you already have access. You’ll only need to activate the features in the app in order to use them. The search giant is, in fact, using Universal Profile standards as well. So most, if not all, of the expected features are readily available.

As stated before, you can access RCS through Verizon on select Samsung devices. Well, Samsung Messages also supports RCS Universal Profile. This helps to solve discrepancies in messaging capabilities and brings encryption to day-to-day messaging.

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