RCS vs SMS: What Is the Difference?

    BONUS MATERIAL: The Psychology of SMS Marketing

In 1992 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 is almost 30 years since the conception of SMS and mobile technology has changed extensively, but SMS itself has stayed the same.

The social media explosion in the 2000s encouraged people to communicate on a massive scale with new features like 'group chat'. SMS however, did not evolve to meet the needs of the modern world.

Mobile users in 2021 need a modern take on SMS and a way to communicate without the old-timey limitations such as requiring a cellular signal connection to send messages or a 160 character limit.

Although SMS is still fully functional and widely used with over 6 billion texts being sent every day, people want a messaging service that is modern and non-restrictive.

What have smartphone manufacturers and carriers done to supplement the demand for a modern alternative to SMS? They are using a service provided by Google that rolls WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger into one. This service is called Rich Communication Service.

What is RCS?

RCS was made by Google to offer non-Apple phone users a competitive alternative to iMessage.

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is an upgrade to traditional SMS. It has been coined 'SMS 2.0' and is set to replace short message service (SMS) and multimedia messaging service (MMS) in the coming years.

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, group chat features, and typing indicators. iMessage is a well-known rich communication messaging app that offers the same features as RCS, but many smartphones that aren’t produced by Apple are looking to upgrade their messaging service.

Woman looking at PDF file in her smartphone

RCS messaging makes it easier for customers to interact with their favourite brands and businesses. You can buy a product, send a review to a business, or vote on feedback polls 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 RCS messaging built-in.

SMS was designed for simple communication but RCS was developed to improve communication and make it modern.

RCS messaging uses the internet via mobile data or WiFi. Although RCS messaging doesn't require a cellular connection from a cell tower as SMS does, this can be both a blessing and a curse as SMS messages will have better coverage in off-grid areas.

RCS has many advantages over SMS for consumers and customers:

  • Group chat capabilities

  • More secure than other default messaging app options

  • Stream high-quality audio and video

  • Send more emojis and gifs

  • In-call and post-call features

What does RCS offer businesses in comparison to SMS?

RCS 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

  • No delay

With RCS business messages, businesses can increase:

  • Conversions

  • Open rates

  • Engagement

RCS 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, 74% of people are more likely to engage with a brand through RCS.

How can I enable RCS on my phone?

As mentioned previously, Apple doesn't use RCS as of yet but instead uses its own version of rich communication via an app called iMessage. Without a Google or Android phone, you cannot use RCS yet.

Here is how to enable RCS messaging on your android device:

  1. If you haven't already got it, download Google Messages App

  2. Once installed, open the app

  3. Tap the settings button (the three vertical dots) at the top right corner of the app

  4. Tap Settings

  5. Tap Chat features

  6. If the Enable chat features toggle is turned off, turn it on. If the Enable chat features toggle is already on, you're good to go.

It may take a while before you see RCS on your particular Android device as Google is slowly rolling it out.

Woman holding silver iPhone

When will RCS be available for IOS?

Surely by now, all big tech companies have rolled this awesome service out, right?

Well, not yet. Verizon was the latest firm to announce they were upgrading to RCS but what about the 47% of all phone users that use an Apple device?

Apple hasn't made any comments relating to RCS and doesn't seem to be considering it for now, here are a few reasons why:

Technically, iPhones have had many of the features that RCS offers for years. iMessage can share high-resolution images, videos, and more. Apple isn't rushing to roll out something they already use.

Another reason why RCS isn't available on IOS is that Apple likes to take their time before implementing new services, like 5G. Apple doesn't want to be the first company to do it and they would rather monitor how it performs for others before implementing it themselves. They may also be wanting to make a better version of RCS and make Android messages seem like the lesser option.

The final reason is that Apple may think that RCS will make iMessage obsolete. A good reason why iPhones are so popular is the iMessage function and RCS would allow those users to communicate with android phones, undercutting their own customer base.

It is mostly speculation as nothing official has been said by Apple. Even though many people want to see RCS on IOS, there are some who are happy to use iMessage for the foreseeable future.

The Current State of Text Messaging in 2021

Where does RCS Currently Stand?

In 2021, RCS will be commonly used amongst Android and Google devices. But, a device cannot use RCS if it does not have RCS support.

Let's say you were a business using RCS to contact a customer. Your messaging service must support it, your customer's phone must support it, the carrier must support it, and the app also has to support it. As you can imagine, this can cause headaches for both the business and the customer involved in the interaction.

This can prove to be too complicated for many users, hence why RSC is taking its time to be implemented across the board.

Many of the big mobile players in the United States like AT&T, Sprint, and T-mobile all have different time plans for implementing RCS so it could take a while for your carrier to support the service.

Where does SMS currently stand?

In 2021, SMS is still the default choice for communication between phone users. Not because it is a better way to communicate, but because it is simple and everybody has access to it.

The comparison between SMS and MMS is made frequently as to which is better for business and personal use, we have a great learning resource on that topic.

Although the features that SMS offers haven't changed since the 90s, don't count it out. Currently, SMS is used by successful businesses to market their products or send notifications directly to their customers. 65% of the world's population sends SMS messages, so you can imagine the difficulties of trying to make RCS the new norm.

SMS will be eventually replaced by RCS but this will take time for carriers to provide compatibility and support.


For consumers and specifically Google or Android users, RCS is a tool at your disposal. It makes messaging more modern and offers the same features that iMessage does and it’s great for marketing campaigns.

RCS enhances the way customers can interact with businesses and opens the door to more complex marketing strategies.

For businesses, RCS is the best way to make a marketing campaign optimized to a modern standard. Your business can add high-quality images of products with no restriction on the character limit. If the customer's phone doesn't support RCS, it won't send. Ultimately this is the current barrier-to-entry with RCS compatibility.

The future looks good for both SMS and RCS but the aim for big companies like Google is for RCS to replace SMS. If each party involved in communication has a device compatible with RCS, they can experience interaction far more modern and complex than traditional SMS messaging and make customer interaction that much better.

Mārcis Jurisons
2021-09-29 00:00:00 UTC