RCS – SMS meets Messenger App

Everyone has been talking about RCS for some time now. We take a look at the background, the current state of development and how it should continue. In particular, we look at what’s changing with Google’s announcement to promote RCS itself, what’s going on in Germany, and what companies can expect from RCS in business messaging in the future.

SMS is great, so why introduce something new?

SMS as a communications standard has been established since the 1990s. It offers a lot of benefits for private users as well as businesses: worldwide connectivity, lightning-fast delivery and more. Customers like to use SMS for contacting businesses due to the limited number of characters forcing short messages. With an average reading rate of 98% SMS is faster and more secure than any other means of communication.

More and more however, apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and others are used, which offer more than just pure texting functionality. This includes the sharing of videos and images, implementation of location and maps, and group chats. SMS doesn’t not offer these functions, or only in a limited way. And this is where RCS comes into play.

What exactly is RCS?

RCS is short for Rich Communication Services. It’s been in development by the GSMA since 2008. The aim was and is to negate the weaknesses of SMS in comparison to modern messenger services. In the mid-term RCS is supposed to replace the aging SMS standard.

Due to a lack of uniform implementation by various providers, however, the standard was slowed down for a long time. Many operators had their own version of an RCS app running under different names such as Joyn, Message+ and others. None of these apps could really establish themselves. Meanwhile most of them are off the table again.

In June 2019 Google announced to run the service on their own infrastructure. At first, this started in France and Great Britain as a pilot project, additional countries are supposed to follow throughout the year. Additionally, the existing networks of operators will be used where they support RCS. Thus in the long term it will be irrelevant which operator you’re signed up with, as long as your device supports the standard and Google’s message-app (Chat) is installed. Modern devices built by Samsung, LG, Asus, Huawei and others already include RCS ability as standard.

RCS availability in Germany

So far In Germany, Telekom and Vodafone offer support of RCS. Since their sub-companies use the same net, coverage is pretty decent overall. O2/Telefonica stopped their coverage in 2017 due to a lack of users. Whether this will stay that way remains to be seen. It is quite possible that O2 will reintroduce support if more users are available as a result of Google’s expansion.

Especially attractive for businesses

For commercial users, RCS offers a number of advantages over both SMS and Messenger apps. Not only can the sender be verified, but the message can also be tracked, such as when it was delivered, whether integrated links were clicked, and more. Customers can see who sent the message right away, because instead of the sender number they see the brand logo, corporate colors and name.

In the future it will also be possible to send delivery confirmations, rail tickets, warnings against credit card fraud and the like via RCS, which makes the standard interesting for almost all industries, from banking to small mail order companies for niche articles. At the same time, the built-in business verification prevents the emergence of spam.

For recipients without an RCS-enabled smartphone, a sent message is only delivered as a regular SMS, i.e. without the multimedia content. The same applies to messages sent to Apple’s iMessage. The first gateway APIs for RCS include this fallback function as well, so that the sending of RCS messages is not “lost” if the recipient does not have a suitable smartphone.

Due to the way it works by now, RCS is mainly useful for personal customer contact. A2P messaging is still quite complicated to implement and doesn’t work too well. However, this is probably going to change quite soon. The other problem is pricing, as every network operator may charge their customers, depending on the content sent. It remains to be seen how this will look in detail.

RCS sending of Railway ticket
RCS Appointment

What about Apple?

Attentive readers will have noticed that Apple is not among the manufacturers producing RCS-enabled smartphones. There are two reasons for this: On one hand Android is the biggest competitor of Apple’s iOS, and on the other hand Apple already offers its users iMessage, a service that is very similar to the functions of RCS. So far, Apple has not made a statement as to whether a future implementation of RCS is planned. However, there are (unconfirmed) reports that Apple is already working on an adaptation of the standard with the GSMA.

The question whether or not Apple will adapt RCS at some point – or at least make their iMessage service compatible – probably depends strongly upon the future success of RCS. In turn, a refusal of implementation by Apple could also diminish said success. Many users could then stick to apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in order to stay connected with all their contacts regardless of their operating system.

What’s the prognosis?

At the moment, RCS still has some weak points that can not be looked over. One criticism that is raised repeatedly, is that there’s (so far) no End-to-End encryption. Particularly when exchanging personal data, this could be problematic. Besides, there are still gaps in the network coverage in many countries.

Both of these are problems that Google wants to work on. Until then however, some time will pass. Another unclear point is pricing. Although Google has announced that it will not ask private users to pay additional fees, such predictions should always be treated with caution.

At the same time, a rising number of businesses and private users are already using the standard where it’s available. The advantages are obvious, the problems will hopefully be resolved very soon. By then at the latest, RCS will be what its inventors wanted it to be: A successor to the SMS.

  • Independent from internet connectivity

    Since the mobile network is used for the transmission of messages, accessibility is made possible beyond Wifi hotspots

  • Independent from network operators

    Through the planned expansion by Google and the inclusion of other networks, a global accessibility is aimed at

  • Increased credibility for companies

    The possibility of verifying that you are the sender increases customer confidence. Protection against spam is also more strongly guaranteed.

  • Multimedia content without additional apps

    Without the need for additional installations, you can send images, videos, map directories and much more.

  • No support by Apple yet

    So far, Apple’s iMessage service is not compatible with RCS. Whether this will change in the future is not yet clear.

  • Unclear pricing

    Currently, individuals only need a data plan to send RCS messages free of charge. For A2P, sending messages will probably not be free of charge.
    Network operators may charge for certain RCS-based services (such as voice calls).

  • No End-to-End encryption

    While WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and others have long had end-to-end encryption, RCS messages are only encrypted during transmission. As long as that doesn’t change, RCS will remain unattractive to all privacy-critical content.

  • Gaps in the coverage

    Although Google now wants to address this problem, there are still large gaps in availability in many countries. Without a comprehensive network, the standard will remain unattractive for all supra-regional companies.

And what does seven make of it?

We believe that RCS is a promising technology. At the latest when the aforementioned weak points are eliminated, RCS Messaging will enrich, if not revolutionize, business communication. So we’re already working to prepare our Gateway API for RCS implementation to be ready when the standard becomes more widespread and mature.

Best regards
Your sms77 team

Header picture Farknot_Architect via iStock.com, edited.

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