What is RCS and why it may be the future of messaging on Android?

Over the last couple of months, there’s been quite a buzz in the Android community surrounding a certain three-letter acronym, and for good reasons. Rich Communication Services, better known simply as RCS, is a next-gen messaging standard that is set to replace the aging SMS and MMS standards, and it may be the next big thing for instant messaging on Android. We already know that Google is all-in on the idea, and that RCS is coming sooner rather than later, but there is still a lot of confusion about the whole thing. Many people are probably wondering, “who sends SMS messages these days anyway?”, and it’s a legitimately good question, and that’s because the SMS standard is obsolete and it has been like that for a good while.

So, what can RCS do for instant messaging on Android in a day and age when so many people are relying on third-party services to text each other, and most importantly, why should you personally care?

What is RCS?

Like we said in the beginning, RCS (Rich Communication Services) is a new messaging standard that is aimed at superseding the obsolete SMS and MMS standards. Along with text messages that are practically unlimited in terms of character count, RCS also allows for sharing images, videos, sound clips, and other types of media and embellishments (of up to 10 MB in size), including emoji and stickers. Further, RCS also supports group chats, audio and video calls, locations sharing, read receipts, and all sorts of other advanced features that we’ve come to expect from IM apps over the last couple of years.

So, you may be wondering at this point why we would need this when we have our Vibers, and WhatsApps, and Facebook Messengers, and that too is a legitimate question. The answer is very simple – RCS could be to Android what iMessage is to iOS (although that's simplifying things a bit). It could offer a native service that will come pre-loaded on Android devices, allowing users to message each other using just Google’s stock messaging app.

The RCS standard is actually being tied in with GSMA’a Universal Profile, meaning that SMS won’t be completely forgotten, being so wide-spread still, despite its numerous shortcomings. It’s an industry-wide initiative that's aimed at inclusiveness, and one that may will help build a much more robust messaging system without the need for any third-party apps. Further, this means that if your emoji-ridden message can’t reach the other side for one reason or another, you’ll have the option to send it in bare-bones form thanks the SMS-fallback, just like you can on iMessage.

Imagine something as easy and as ubiquitous as SMS texting, but a lot more versatile and capable, available from the moment you buy a phone. No need for creating a new account, adding people, verifying your phone number – just fire up the app and start talking and sharing, knowing that whatever you send will reach the recipient. 

More than 58 operators, OEMs and OS providers with a cumulative subscriber base of some 4.7 billion people globally have committed to the Universal Profile, GSMA says. This is huge. In November of last year, Sprint rolled out RCS support for Android via Google Messenger (now Android Messages), while earlier this month, Google recruited Telenor to help lay the foundations of the new standard in Europe and Asia.

Android devices made by OEMs who have committed to the Universal Profile, as well as ones sold through involved carriers, will come pre-loaded with Android Messages as a universal built-in solution for instant messaging.

Why should you care?

For Google, the universal implementation of RCS means a way to deliver Android users an experience comparable to that of the iOS-native iMessage, without having to launch a myriad of proprietary messaging apps (ahem, Hangouts, Allo, Duo) that have little to no chance of successfully competing against the likes of Viber and WhatsApp.

For Android users, RCS offers a means of reaching all their contacts in various ways, without having to download another app, just because John is on Viber but Michelle uses WhatsApp. It may not sound like such a big deal right now, but there’s a good reason why iMessage is so popular in some countries – people like having as many features as possible available out-of-the-box. People like nice things. And being able to message, or send pictures, or videos to your contacts the moment you start up your new Android phone and log into your Google account is certainly a nice thing.

When is it coming?

In the U.S., T-Mobile and AT&T have already implemented some of the aforementioned features in their stock messaging apps, but they are not using the standardized GSMA Universal Profile (because it isn’t fully ready for RCS), meaning that their solutions are limited to their respective networks. Sprint was the first to partner with Google and begin pre-loading nee-Google Messenger on certain LG and Nexus handsets, but is still not available on all devices.

Release 1 of the Universal Profile was introduced in November of last year, but it only included the core framework of RCS. The second release is scheduled to roll out some time in Q2 2017, expanding the scope of Release 1 with included APIs, plug-in integration, and improved authentication and app security. It is when Release 2 comes about that we will start hearing more about RCS.

Just like the adoption of every new standard (remember LTE?), the transition will be gradual, rather than instant. Although there are many OEMs and carriers currently on board with RCS, with Google leading the way, we will have to wait until later this year for more definitive information on when the Universal Profile will be fully up and running. Then it will be up to Google, the OEMs, and the carriers, to work together to pull it off – to deliver a unified, standardized platform that is as versatile and capable as the current top messaging services, offering everything users want and need right out-of-the-box.



1. Stranger

Posts: 73; Member since: Jan 19, 2017

Great :)

8. michaelny2001

Posts: 346; Member since: Aug 01, 2012

why great? I can do the same thing right now with the google messenger. Nothing changes.

2. Mxyzptlk unregistered

iMessage and other services like BBM have been doing this for some time. Google is playing catch up, as usual.

5. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

Only this isn't Google, but something the carriers came up with. Google just supports it, preferably on all (new) Android phones. And while iMessage is good, it only works on an iPhone. RCS works on multiple platforms

11. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Well said, Rebel... you debunked his irrationality, once again.

14. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Go away. I don't have time to feed you, kid.

16. Quicksword_Phantom

Posts: 180; Member since: Jun 15, 2015

Can you be anymore pathetic at trolling???

15. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Well yes but the context still applies. BBM is supported by multiple platforms and btw, iMessage doesn't work on just the iphone.

3. Supraman21

Posts: 467; Member since: Jun 09, 2010

I feel like 10Mb is too little. 100Mb would be much better.

9. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1348; Member since: Aug 31, 2016


4. Rampage_Taco

Posts: 1109; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

Sounds similar to Verizon's Messages+ but I still prefer the lighter weight Standard Messaging App programed into Samsung's devices. no need for all the add-ons. But for Google, Hangouts really had promise but I feel they never really marketed it. Cross platform messaging, groups, easy file sharing, and Video chat all in one. Just no one knows about it. Then they decide to really put it on the back burner with the intro of Allo and Duo which clearly haven't done much

10. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1348; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

Google just need to stick with one app and incorporate all the others into it. That said I still use SMS, MMS and E-mail because I need to communicate with strangers daily and I don't know what app they use.

6. DavMor0069

Posts: 266; Member since: Dec 09, 2015

RCS + Allo = semi iMessage competitor.

7. jeroome86

Posts: 2314; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Wait till someone shows up and educates you. Maybe a xp with his on data.

12. GoTstan

Posts: 386; Member since: Jul 25, 2015

Sms user here. It just works so why bother with anything else. I'm looking foward to rcs, and I've been given a taste of it already from tmobile

13. whattab

Posts: 16; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

So what does this mean for iOS users who text Android users in the future? Currently, it defaults from iMessage (blue) to SMS/MMS (green). But with certain people having RCS and certain some having SMS, would it still switch fluidly? Or does it depend on the iPhone user's carrier? Example: let's says T-Mobile picks up RCS and you have an iPhone on their network. Will your messages to Android users automatically default to RCS when texting other Android users already with RCS in place? And will iMessage then default to SMS if the receiver is not using RCS? Or does Apple have to implement RCS into the iPhone also or the texts to Android will automatically remain SMS (even if the receiver is using RCS). Apologies. This is confusing.

17. vincelongman

Posts: 5755; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

RCS is essentially SMS 2.0 So presumbly Apple will eventually add RCS support to iMessage But I wouldn't expect that until 2018

18. GreenMan

Posts: 2698; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

This is "BIG" news...! This is "HUGE" news...! I suppose some people didn't fully understand it... It means that your phone can send SMS and MMS via the internet data instead of expensive cellular network (SMS is expensive here...!) Of course... You can do it now with the likes of What'sApp and Allo etc. But with this technology, you won't have to install any third-party apps like What'sApp which are mostly battery and system resource leeches and just send IM's like regular texts... It's a NEW STANDARD of SMS... And it, if properly executed, can definitely kill Instant Messeing Services for GOOD...! Just like how these apps killed SMS and MMS...! You can do it, Google...! G'Day!

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.