SMS and MMS -- the way we send basic texts and images using our phones -- was created in the 90s. And since then, it hasn’t changed much.
But messaging is about to get an upgrade thanks to a new protocol promoted by GSMA and Google.
Rich Communications Services -- or RCS for short -- looks to bring messaging out of an era of brick phones and tiny displays and into an age where the phone in your pocket is more like a computer than a phone.
Unfortunately, timelines for RCS are still cloudy...
Some carriers support it now while others plan to offer the feature soon. But firm dates aren’t available in most cases.
And even if your carrier supports RCS, you’ll need a compatible phone and RCS coverage in your area.
While we expect this to be a mainstream feature eventually, support requires both software updates on phones and possibly network upgrades to support the feature. This means availability is limited for now.
How RCS Changes Things (The Good News)
Much like WhatsApp, Telegram, and other popular chat apps, RCS uses Wi-Fi or data to send messages. This means you can still send and receive messages even when you’re in a spotty coverage area as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.
It’s kind of like Wi-Fi calling but for messages.
Getting away from cellular network transmission also allows RCS to handle more characters per message so you’re not limited to the 160 characters of SMS. While there is a character limit, it’s so high you should never need to worry about it.
The ability to send voice and audio clips provides additional flexibility in how you communicate. You could essentially use RCS like a walkie talkie, sending short clips back and forth and never have to touch the on-screen keyboard again.
Of course, if you’re doing that, you could just call the person… but it’s still an interesting feature.
Read receipts are included to tell you when someone views your message. While this has some creepy implications, it’s a nice way to know that your message has gone through and didn’t disappear somewhere along the way.
RCS also offers support for high-resolution photos and video as long as the files are under 10MB.
While you might not realize it, pictures sent using MMS are typically compressed. This allows pictures to send faster and use less data.
RCS will allow you to send images and videos with much higher quality so those selfies and shots of the kids and pets will look even better.
You can also attach many more file types to your messages -- including ZIP, PDF, and TXT files -- to make it easier to share files with friends. Just remember, you’re still subject to the file size limits so you won’t be canceling your cloud storage just yet.
Current RCS Limitations (The Bad News)
RCS comes with a few trade-offs.
For now, the biggest limitation is phone and carrier support. You’ll not only need a service provider that supports RCS, but you’ll also need a compatible phone.
And iPhone support is non-existent. So if you’re an iPhone user, you’ll likely need to stick to iMessage for now.
The good news is that you already have most of the RCS features in iMessage. You just won’t be able to use them when messaging your friends with Android phones.
However, even with a supported phone and carrier, you still must be in an RCS-compatible coverage area. While details are vague, most carriers appear to offer RCS support in the same regions they support VoLTE.
But if you’re not sure and planning on upgrading specifically to use RCS, call your carrier and check support in areas you frequent before spending any money.
It’s also important to consider that sending uncompressed photos and video through RCS uses your mobile data if you’re not on Wi-Fi.
Finally, we come to what we consider the biggest downside to RCS -- there is no end-to-end encryption. While the networks encrypt your messages and data in transit, they’re still processed in an unencrypted state on messaging servers. So your carrier technically might be able to access your message data.
Many of the groups behind RCS claim this is for regulatory and legal reasons -- and your carrier technically has no reason to peek at your data. But it is something to consider if you’re worried about privacy.
So, Can You Use RCS Yet?
If you see your carrier in the list below, you should be able to use RCS -- assuming you have a supported phone. Just click the “more info” link to find out device requirements.
Don't see your favorite carrier listed here? We either couldn't find confirmation of support or they don't currently support it. However, you can call your carrier to confirm and request they add the feature if they have no plans already.
Q. How Does this Differ from WhatsApp, Kik, or those other non-SMS Messaging Apps?
A. In many ways, it doesn’t.
Just it’s now baked into your phone’s default messaging app so you don’t have to bounce between 8 different chat apps running to stay in touch with friends and family.
How RCS compares to your favorite chat app will differ slightly depending on the platform you’re using. But in most cases, the basic features of chat apps and RCS are very similar.
Q. What About Using RCS on My iPhone?
A. At the time of writing, Apple has shown no interest in adopting RCS. This is probably because RCS and iMessage are very similar.
In reality, you have most of the features Android phone users will enjoy in the RCS update in iMessage already. So apart from the ability to use those features to chat with your friends on Android phones, you’re not missing much.
RCS upgrades the built-in messaging experience on Android phones to mimic the existing features of many existing non-SMS messaging apps.
Support for HD video and image sharing
No more message length limits
The ability to send messages over Wi-Fi
Attachment of virtually any file type
Support for voice and audio clips
However, while the feature will likely be widely available in the next few years, current availability is limited to select carriers and mobile phones.
Once available, RCS is sure to make messaging more powerful and flexible -- even in its earliest stages.
P.S. If you’re worried about people snooping into what you’re talking about in your messages, RCS won’t help. It’s still no more encrypted than SMS or MMS. But if you don’t mind using another app, you can skip the wait for RCS and enjoy secure, encrypted messaging on your phone with these apps.
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 Digital Trends : What is RCS Messaging?
 Android Authority : What is RCS Messaging and Why is it Important?
 Slash Gear : Google’s List of Carriers that Support RCS Messaging Expands
 Phone Arena : What Is RCS and Why It May Be the Future of Messaging on Android?
 Wikipedia : Rich Communication Services
 Google : Delivering RCS Messaging to Android Users Worldwide
 Lifehacker : What’s RCS Messaging and Why Should You Care?