In 1992, the short messaging service, aka SMS messaging, was commercially deployed. Most handset manufacturers at the time didn't hesitate to incorporate this groundbreaking innovation into their software as it was a simple, fast, and effective way to send messages between cell phones.
It's been almost 30 years to the conception of SMS technology, and the mobile and telecommunications landscape has changed extensively since. The social media explosion in the 2000s encouraged people to communicate on a massive scale with new features like 'group chat'. Through all this, SMS has stayed the same.
Although SMS is still fully functional and widely used, with over 23 billion text messages being sent every day, people want a rich messaging service that is modern and non-restrictive, without the old-timey limitations such as requiring a cellular signal connection to send messages or a 160-character limit.
To meet this demand, smartphone manufacturers and carriers have started adopting a service provided by Google that enriches the traditional SMS. This new texting protocol is called Rich Communication Service.
This article will compare RCS vs SMS and talk about the advantages and challenges of each type of messaging protocol.
What is RCS messaging?
RCS was made by Google to offer non-Apple mobile device users a competitive alternative to iMessage.
Rich Communication Services (RCS) is an upgrade to the traditional SMS message. You wouldn't be entirely wrong to call it the new SMS protocol. It has been coined 'SMS 2.0' and is set to replace the short message service and the multimedia messaging service (SMS vs MMS) in the coming years. A bold claim, one met with a mix of resistance and skepticism.
RCS is a protocol that builds upon the basic foundation of SMS but offers more modern features, such as branded messages, sharing content like high-resolution video and audio clips, group chats, typing indicators, and read receipts. Furthermore, the end-to-end encryption makes RCS secure compared to SMS. These and other features make RCS very close to instant or OTT messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
Apple's proprietary iMessage service is a well-known rich communication messaging app that offers capabilities similar to RCS features, but many mobile devices that aren't produced by Apple also wished to upgrade their messaging capabilities, making way for the development and adoption of RCS text messaging.
RCS texts make it easier for customers to interact with their favorite brands and businesses. You can buy a product, send a review to a business, or vote on feedback polls, all without leaving the native messaging app.
Can RCS replace SMS?
Rich communication services (RCS) are meant to replace SMS as the default native text messaging service for all phones in the future. Most Android devices already have the RCS chatting feature built in.
When talking about RCS chat vs SMS, the latter was designed for simple communication, but RCS was developed to improve communication and make it modern.
The RCS chat service needs an internet connection via mobile data or WiFi. RCS text messages don't require a cellular connection from a cell tower as SMS does, which can be both a blessing and a curse for RCS texting. It means SMS messages will have better coverage in off-grid areas.
RCS's rich content messaging capabilities offer many advantages over SMS for consumers and customers.
More secure than other default messaging app options
High-quality audio and video sharing
Emojis, GIFs, stickers, and other fun ways of communication and expression
In-call and post-call features
SMS vs RCS: What does RCS offer businesses in comparison with SMS messages?
RCS text messages can do more for businesses compared to SMS. Here is what RCS messaging offers businesses that SMS doesn't.
Analyze marketing campaigns by measuring transactions
Communicate directly to the customer's native messaging app
Target specific groups of customers for specific communication
Keep customers informed with real-time order confirmations and updates
With RCS business messaging, businesses can boost their open rates, user engagement, and, subsequently, their conversion rates.
RCS texting outperforms SMS when it comes to business capabilities. From marketing to simple notifications, RCS is the way forward for businesses to communicate with their customers. Even before its launch, 74% of consumers (as per a 2018 market research report by the GSM Association) had expressed that they would be more likely to engage with a brand through an RCS message. So, it got off to a great start.
Let's also talk about the cost of SMS vs "rich SMS".
With such widespread acceptance and adoption, one might wonder, is RCS messaging free? Technically, yes, if you compare it against the cost per SMS model. However, we can't ignore the fact that RCS messaging uses data, so you are still paying your internet provider for WiFi or your wireless carrier for cellular data. These costs can also quickly increase if you send too many media-heavy messages.
On the other hand, despite the per SMS fee generally charged to both individuals and businesses sending SMS messages, you can still cut SMS costs. For P2P SMS messaging, many providers offer SMS packages or bundles, i.e., a fixed number of SMS messages for a fixed nominal price. As a business needing A2P messaging, all you need is a quality SMS API provider, and you'll be able to get the best rates possible!
It can thus be tricky to outright state which is cheaper, RCS or SMS. It greatly depends on your usage.
How can I enable RCS messaging on my phone?
As mentioned previously, Apple devices don't use RCS chat services yet but instead use its own version of rich communication via a protocol called iMessage. Without a Google or Android phone, you cannot use RCS yet.
Here is how to enable RCS messaging on your Android device.
(Note: In Google Messages, the RCS feature is called RCS chats.)
If you haven't already got it, download the Google Messages app. If you do, update it to the latest version.
Once installed/updated, open the app.
Tap the Account symbol 👤 on the right side of the screen.
Tap Messages settings.
Tap RCS chats.
If the Turn on RCS chats toggle is turned off, turn it on. If it is already on, you're good to go.
When will RCS messages be available for iOS?
Surely, by now, all big tech companies must have rolled this awesome service out, right?
Well, not yet. While practically all Android phones have now upgraded to RCS, what about the 19% of all phone users in the world and 50% of those in the US who use iPhones?
Apple hasn't made any comments relating to RCS and doesn't seem to be considering it for now. Let's go over a few reasons why and, in the process, do a quick comparison of iMessage vs RCS.
First and foremost, iPhones have, for years, had many of the rich text messaging features that RCS offers. Via iMessage, users can share high-resolution images, videos, and more. Apple isn't rushing to roll out something they've already been using for quite some time.
Another reason is that Apple may think that RCS will make iMessage obsolete. A good reason iPhones are so popular is the iMessage function, and RCS messages would allow those users to communicate with Android phones, undercutting Apple's customer base.
It is mostly speculation, as not much has officially explicitly been said by Apple. Even though many people want to see RCS on iOS, others are happy to continue using iMessage for the foreseeable future.
The current state of text messaging in 2023
Where does RCS currently stand?
In 2023, RCS has been commonly used on Android and Google devices. According to a tweet by Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP of Android, Chrome, ChromeOS & Play at Google, 800 million people were using RCS globally around mid-2023. By the end of the year, the number is expected to rise to 1 billion.
Regardless, any device that does not have RCS support still cannot send or receive RCS messages at all.
Let's say you were a business using RCS to contact a customer. Your messaging service must support RCS, and so must your customer's phone, the carrier, and the messaging app. As you can imagine, this can cause headaches for the business and all its customers involved in the interaction.
This can prove too complicated for many users; thus, RCS is taking its time to be adopted across the board.
Many major players in the United States, like AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, have gradually implemented RCS, with new partnerships still being formed to further facilitate the adoption process. So, it could still take a while for your messaging app or carrier to flawlessly support the service.
Where does SMS currently stand?
In 2023, SMS is still the default choice for communication between phone users. Maybe not because it is a better way to communicate, but surely because it is simple and everybody has access to it.
Although the fundamental features that SMS offers haven't changed since the 90s, we still cannot count out the classic communication channel. 65% of the world's population, i.e., over 5 billion people, sends SMS messages, prominently for personal communication. Additionally, big and small businesses use SMS to market their products or send notifications directly to their customers. So, you can imagine the difficulties of trying to make RCS the new norm.
Even if everything else makes it seem likely that RCS will eventually replace SMS, there is the issue of the differing views and actions of the Android vs iOS teams. It's reflected in the neverending RCS messaging vs iMessage debate. Apple continues to vehemently refuse the adoption and integration of RCS into its text messaging ecosystem. As long as they maintain this position, SMS will remain the indispensable fallback platform for all inter-OS text messaging.
For consumers, specifically Google or Android users, RCS is a tool that makes SMS messaging more modern, offers the same features that iMessage does, and is great for marketing campaigns. The RCS message enhances how customers interact with businesses and opens the door to more complex marketing strategies.
For businesses, RCS is the best way to optimize their marketing campaigns to a modern standard. Your business can add high-quality images of products with no character limit or other such restrictions. Alas, if the customer's phone is not RCS-enabled, it won't work. Ultimately, this is an ongoing and very real barrier to entry in terms of RCS deliverability.
The future looks good for both SMS and RCS messages, and big companies like Google aim for RCS to replace SMS. If each party involved in communication has an RCS-compatible device, they can experience interaction far more modern and complex than traditional SMS messaging and make customer interaction that much better.