Text messaging – the communication technology we’ve known and loved since the 1990s – is gradually showing its age. They just don’t work the way we are used to and expect over the past few years. For example, they don’t support read receipts, group messages, or animated stickers that everyone likes to trade with apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat. You need a cellular connection – and a signal – and a 160-character limit to say what you think. This may sound surprisingly restrictive, but old habits die hard. The last count, SMS or SMS (Short Message Service), is still very much appreciated by the public. According to Statistic from 2017, around 781 billion text messages are sent monthly in the US and more than 9.3 trillion texts are sent every year. According to Statista, the number of SMS messages sent in the US increased by 15.8% from 2017 to 2018 to 2 trillion.
Despite the continued popularity of text messaging, some people need more than it can provide. To make the service more valuable and competitive with popular, feature-rich messaging apps, smartphone manufacturers, wireless operators, and government agencies in the wireless industry have developed the Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol (also known as RCS chat), known as the Modern Version of SMS, which combines the functions of Facebook Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp on one platform. The interactive chat protocol enables the exchange of group chats, video, audio and high-resolution images that look and function like iMessage and other large-scale messaging apps. It makes it easy to read receipts and see in real time when someone replies to your message. Your phone may already have it.
Google’s customers in the UK, France and Mexico could choose to chat instead of waiting for carriers to introduce it. Now Android users in the USA can also take part in the new chat campaign. Last November, Google announced the launch of RCS as the primary SMS platform for Android for anyone using the Android Messages app. Android Messages are installed on many Android phones. A partnership between Google and Samsung allows RCS features to work seamlessly between the Samsung Messages and Android Messages apps, the standard SMS apps on their devices. You can also jump into the Google Play Store to download messages yourself.
The SMS background story
The invention of SMS sending is older than the iPhone, BlackBerry and Palm Pilot. SMS was first proposed in 1982 for the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), a second generation cell standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
The original idea was to transmit texts via the signaling systems that controlled telephone traffic. ETSI engineers developed a framework that was both small enough to fit into the existing signaling paths (128 bytes, later improved to 160 seven-bit characters) and modular enough to accommodate carrier management functions such as real-time Billing and message redirection (forwarding messages to) support a recipient other than the one specified by the user) and message blocking.
After nearly a decade of tinkering, SMS was put into commercial use in December 1992 – a milestone that Neil Papworth, an engineer, marked with an SMS to Vodafone customer Richard Jarvis on Merry Christmas. From then on, cell phone manufacturers such as Nokia and cellular operators such as Fleet Call (now Nextel) and BT Cellnet (now O2 UK) rose on board the messaging train. By 2010, almost 20 years after the first text message, mobile subscribers exchanged 6.1 trillion messages.
Despite the explosive growth of SMS, the technology has not advanced too much since the 1990s. Even when the form factors of the phone changed and Apple’s iPhone made the modern touchscreen smartphone popular, the SMS remained unchanged – except for 160 characters. RCS changes all that.
What is RCS?
Rich Communication Services (RCS) is the protocol that SMS will replace, and it started off slowly. It was founded in 2007 by a group of industry sponsors and the next year it was inducted into the GSM Association, a trade group, where it essentially languished for nearly a decade. In 2018, Google announced it had partnered with major wireless carriers around the world to adopt the RCS protocol. The result is Chat, a protocol based on the RCS Universal Profile – a global standard for the introduction of RCS, which subscribers from different network operators and countries can use to communicate with one another.
The chat evolves to look like iMessage and other messaging apps, but there are some nice extras planned as well. Google has worked with companies to add helpful features to chat to improve communication, such as: B. Brand info messages and sharing content such as pictures, video clips and gifs, or to send live updates of upcoming trips and boarding passes and possibly even allow customers to choose airline seats from Android messages. Chat is hardware independent and therefore works on multiple devices.
However, one critical element is missing in chat: while the original RCS protocol allowed for client-server encryption to be implemented, chat does not offer end-to-end encryption like iMessage or Signal. Rather, it retains the same legal interception standards as its SMS predecessor.
It is possible for chat to work on iOS even though Apple does not yet support the protocol. This is because with iMessage, many of the great RCS features are already available to iPhone users when they are communicating with other Apple users. In the US, Apple users make up 50% of the smartphone market, and the company has been communicating with the GSMA over the past few years about implementing RCS, but nothing solid has emerged from those conversations.
Chat is a protocol
Chat isn’t just another Android messaging app: it’s the friendly name for the RCS Protocol or the RCS Universal Profile. Chat is only available for two apps: Android Messages and Samsung Messages. While this seems a bit limiting, most smartphone manufacturers ship with Android’s default messaging app, so you may already have access. Many moving parts are required for chat to work. First of all, your network operator must support the protocol. You also need a device and a messaging app that support chat. Finally, your recipient must have chat too, otherwise chat messages will revert to SMS.
In addition to introducing Android messaging into the 21st century, with reading receipts, entering indicators, and sending and receiving high-resolution photos and videos, users can chat, name group chats, add participants and remove them from group chats via WiFi or mobile data , and more. You can activate RCS by starting the Android Messages app and activating the chat functions. Text messages are automatically routed through the new protocol if RCS is activated for both parties. But not everyone will, at least not yet.
Who supports the chat?
For nearly a decade, it has been difficult to obtain broad support for the RCS protocol. While some airlines like Sprint and T-Mobile got on board fairly early, many manufacturers hesitated. Since RCS requires both software and a network update, many manufacturers did not want to develop software to make their devices retrospectively support the protocol. Google now offers chat for customers through its app, eliminating the need for carrier support. Microsoft has also chosen the protocol. In the US, all of the major carriers have signaled their support for chat, which means it should be pretty easy for virtual cellular network operators to get on board when and if they choose to implement the standard.
Last fall, the four major US airlines – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint – founded the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative, a joint venture that focuses on the standardization of RCS and operates independently of Google.
- Sprint: While Sprint has already introduced RCS Universal Profile and was the first to do so, you need a supported device to benefit from it – and you also need to speak to someone who has a supported device. The latest Universal Profile is now running and all Sprint Android devices are RCS enabled for messaging to communicate with both Sprint customers and other supporting providers.
- T-Mobile: T-Mobile has started rolling out RCS Universal Profile on some smartphones and activated RCS with an older version of the universal protocol. Subscribers can access features such as 100MB file transfer, 100 member group chats, and tap indicators, but not chatbots, sender verification, and business messaging that are included in the newer versions. It is supported on most of the Android phones manufactured from 2018 onwards.
- AT & T: AT&T has approved the RCS standard, but there is still no final word for a rollout.
- Verizon: Verizon introduces RCS to support its phones. Most Verizon phones support RCS messaging with the Verizon Message Plus app. However, since it is not the universal profile, it will only work with other Verizon devices. Well-known devices that support the universal profile are the Google Pixel 3, 3a and 4 series, the Samsung Galaxy S9, S10 and S20 series and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 series.
- Google Fi: Google Fi now supports RCS on all Fi phones.
- US Cellular: US Cellular runs the latest Universal Profile so all US Cellular Android devices can communicate using RCS messages if the recipient supports the protocol.
Prepaid cellular operators in the US have signed up to the RCS Act. Those who now support the Universal Profile include: Boost Mobile, EcoMobile, Freedom Mobile, NTT DoCoMo, Straight Talk, Telcel América, Tiercel Wireless, Ting, Total Wireless, and Virgin Mobile.
Outside the US, telecommunications providers in countries around the world have adopted the universal RCS profile, including Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Docomo, and others serving Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, and Latin America. In partnership with the UK and French airlines, Google has fully rolled out RCS in these countries.
Where are we now
Google and the other carriers are not yet sure how RCS will come together or if it will merge into one cohesive whole. RCS has yet to transform into an organized, fully connected, multi-faceted messaging passageway that we hope will materialize at some point. However, there is not much movement at the moment. Network providers offer RCS messaging, but the service is still not compatible with all computers. There are 430 million active users according to the GSMA. 13 million of them live in Germany. While RCS has already initiated services in several countries, they have yet to effectively standardize the network connection between all of these countries. Hence, we know that RCS has the potential to become a primary consolidated messaging technology, but it will take them more time to troubleshoot issues in their system.