business messaging blog
Everything you need to know about RCS, the successor to SMS
Scott Navratil

The concept of texting was first conceived in the early 80s as a second generation cell-standard that would allow users to send short messages in text form. It wasn’t made available to the public until a decade later in 1992. The first text message was sent at a party organized to celebrate the occasion. The message: “Merry Christmas.” Today, trillions and trillions of text messages have been exchanged by humans. While virtually every other aspect of mobile technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in that time, the SMS protocol is virtually unchanged with many cellphone providers still limiting text messages to the 160 character limit. Messaging apps like Apple’s iMessage, Facebook’s Messenger, Whatsapp, and WeChat (China’s most popular messaging service), on the other hand, have evolved quite a bit and as a result, for the first time since SMS was introduced, the number of texts being sent is on the decline.

Many people are moving their text-based communications to messaging apps because they support many features that aren’t included with the SMS protocol. Now, the cellphone industry’s biggest players are teaming up to reverse this trend by introducing a new text message protocol: Rich Communication Services, or RCS.

What is RCS?

For quite a while now, mobile phone users have been able to use SMS to send photos, videos, and even short video or audio files. But the evolution of SMS has stalled there. RCS looks to change that by introducing more multimedia and group chat features to the old SMS protocol. One major upgrade that RCS would offer is that users would be able to send and receive text messages over the internet even if they don’t have cell service. This is something that iPhone users already have by default since the default text message protocol for iphones is Apple’s iMessage. While many apps support this, it isn’t always convenient since all parties involved in a group conversation must have the same app. A person who doesn’t have an iPhone can’t participate in a conversation via iMessage and a person who hasn’t downloaded What’sApp wouldn’t be able to send and receive messages via that application. RCS, on the other hand, would be a new standard that works across all mobile phones. Features would include the ability to more easily create and edit group chats, the ability to send higher quality photos and videos via text, the ability to send and receive read receipts, and indicators to let text senders know when a recipient has received their text and when that person is typing a response.

The hangup

Creating a successor to the SMS protocol requires participation of all the major providers and not all of them are on board yet. SMS is still extremely popular despite the recent decline and many still don’t see the need for RCS. Still, RCS seems like an inevitability as messaging apps continue to take over the market share of text-based messaging.

Implications

RCS has huge implications for mobile marketers who will soon have at their disposal many more features to incorporate into text message marketing campaigns. The ability to send readable receipts via text as opposed to links to online versions, for instance, will be a huge improvement. Access to more multimedia options will allow marketers to provide customers with a more media-rich experience than the medium currently allows and that experience will be made more immediate since media can be embedded right into the message itself instead of having to include links that people may or may not click on.

Chantel Fullilove

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