SMS vs. RCS, what’s the big deal?

By:  Amy Dean - COO/Marketing Specialist




The new kid on the block: RCS

Old man telling the kid to get off his lawn: SMS


Only sort of.

First off, RCS (Rich Communications Services) Protocol has been around since 2008, but didn’t really start making a fuss until 2016, when the Google Pixel smartphone came to the market.. So it’s not really a spring chicken. Though SMS does have about 20 years on RCS, with a 1992 SMS text message of ‘Merry Christmas’ successfully delivered.

And secondly, SMS has the right to be proud of its lawn. It’s stood the test of time, it can deliver under duress, not needing wi-fi or cellular data to get its message across the world.

So why all the hubbub about RCS as of late?

RCS is what its name implies, rich communication…it is a messaging protocol that can handle rich communications of images, videos and even interactive messages without having to use a standalone application (or OTT, over-the-top application outside of the native texting application that comes with your phone, like WhatsApp). Allowing for higher resolution photos and videos and more interactivity than SMS and MMS. Because everyone wants that video of Baby Cousin Joey tasting his first lemon in lip-puckering-high-resolution, right?

Why now?

Apple finally conceded, and will be offering the ability, late 2024, to use RCS protocol if the user decides to turn it on. Otherwise they’ll continue to use iMessage capabilities.

The RCS messaging protocol option has been at the bottom of Apple’s to-do list since iMessage already does what RCS does for Apple to Apple users, and has been doing it successfully for over a decade. So they were in no hurry to give the Android users the satisfaction of being in a group text without the telling green bubble pointing a finger at the Android user. (I have heard rumor that bubble color will still not actually change to mono-vision, we’ll have to wait and see.)

Apple’s not giving in willingly, but to stay on good terms with the European Union to abide by theEU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), they announced that they’d be adding support for RCS Universal Standard published by the GSM Association late 2024. This standard allows for better interoperability between Androids and iPhones along with end-to-end encryption. (iMessage has always had end-to-end encryption.) There are still a few Android phone options that don’t have Google Messenger preloaded, but you can download it from the Google Marketplace if you want to use RCS … kind of still making it something you have opt-into, unlike iMessage which is always installed on Apple phones.

How does any of this affect SMS?

Well, it won’t for a long time and it will never take over completely.

SMS has the ability to reach any phone with cell service without using cellular data or needing to be a smartphone. So all of those using flip-phones, still a staggeringly high percentage of the world still use, will receive SMS, but it will never receive an RCS message. In fact

As RCS picks up a bit of steam, many phones will not be able to send or receive RCS messages due to device, device operating system or carrier participation. And, of those that can, they have to make sure the recipient has RCS available to them, or the extra cool features will be totally lost one them …and even then, SMS will be the failsafe if you’re out of wifi range or have run out of cellular data.

We have moremobile phone subscriptions than people in the world. 30% of those phones are iOS , only 800 million phonesof the 3 billion Android phone can utilize RCS messaging, leaving 7.15 billion phones around the world that can still only utilize SMS or iMessage.Two billion iPhone users make up part of that 7.15, and they’ve been using iMessage quite successfully for years, and have no plans on changing that. The addition of RCS will only be an option on the iPhone, not the norm.

The moral of the story:

SMS is here to stay, RCS is here to play (knowing it always has an SMS safety net).

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