RCS Messaging: The Future of Texting?

RCS Messaging: The Future of Texting?

May 20, 2024

For the last several years, text message has been the most popular and generic form of digital communication. Texting has become the center of communication for people all over the world as one can instantaneously send a short message to anyone who owns a mobile phone.  

Besides, the traditional SMS and MMS texting systems have some major shortcomings in terms of multimedia support, rich formatting, and advanced features.  

The development of smartphone technology has raised our communication needs and expectations, thus, adopting the new Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging protocol is a step to modernize and improve the texting experience. Nevertheless, will RCS be the text of tomorrow?  

The Limitations of SMS/MMS What is to be understood is that SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) texting have been the best forms of mobile communication for many decades but they were developed in the time when mobile devices were limited by the data speeds, screen sizes, processing power, and functionality.  

SMS was first used in 1992 and designed for simple text-only messages of a maximum of 160 characters. On the other hand, this feature did work good for the feature phones of that time, but nowadays users need the support for rich multimedia like high-resolution images, videos, audio files, locations and contact sharing.  

MMS was eventually launched to let users send multimedia attachments; however, it failed in terms of file size limits, inconsistent support across carriers and devices and the lack of advanced features.  

Besides the limitations of the traditional texting, such as the absence of read receipts, typing indicators, web-based messaging support, proper group chat functionality, and the inability to communicate across mobile operating systems there are also other limitations of it. e.g., Android to iOS). SMS/MMS texting does not compare with the full-featured experience of the latest over-the-top messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and so on.  

RCS (Rich Communication Services) is a communicative protocol that is intended to give a better messaging experience than the existing SMS/MMS and at the same time, it is global interoperable like traditional texting. The main developers of this technology were phone operators, vendors, and Google, and they designed it to be a multimedia messaging platform that could be used like the internet-based apps, but with a much closer connection to the device messaging features.  

Some of the key features and enhancements that RCS provides over SMS/MMS include:  

Rich Multimedia: RCS facilitates the exchange of high-res photos, videos, audio, locations, contact info and other files without any real file size limits.   

Better Group Chat: RCS has group chat features with the capacity to allow up to 1000 members, with administrative controls, @mentioning, read receipts, and typing indicators.  

Cross-Platform Support: RCS plans to function smoothly and give a steady and the same user experience irrespective of whether the user is on Android or iOS devices as well as desktop or web clients.   

Advanced Calling: RCS is a platform which supports IP voice and video calling directly from the messaging app.   

Rich Business Messaging: RCS becomes a better channel for companies to interact with customers through branded messages, rich cards, payments, appointment booking, and more.   

Better Security: RCS is endorsed by the encrypted system that enables the people to communicate privately and securely.   

Improved Spam Protection: CRS can distinguish genuine businesses or services and prevent spam and fraud.  

Though RCS was first introduced in 2008, it took so many years for the underlying technology, standards, and ecosystem to become mature for the deployment at scale. At the same time, messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and others like it were invented to fill the void for the need of the messaging of smartphones. This caused the fragmentation of the messaging landscape as users started to choose different apps depending on their demands and what platforms their friends were using. 

The RCS has been slowly but surely moving forward in the world despite its slow start. This happened over the past few years and RCS has been gaining popularity. Companies like Samsung and Google have been giving the ice-cream tip in terms of adding native RCS to their Android devices.   

Most mobile operators and telecommunication standards bodies have been to facilitate the deployment and the interconnection of their RCS systems to widen the global RCS messaging footprint.   

As per the GSMA data, 88 operators in 59 countries had native RCS messaging means in early 2023. Although the time has exceeded the expectations, RCS has begun to develop to critical mass in terms of the coverage and the availability of the Android ecosystem. The major examples of the RCS rollouts are the Android implementation that Google did through its "Chat" messaging service and the Samsung rollout of the RCS support that was implemented on the Galaxy devices.   

Apple's Rejection of RCS Adoption The main challenge for universal adoption of RCS is Apple's refusal to include the support for the protocol on its widely used iOS devices and the iMessage platform. The fact that more than 1 billion iPhone users in the world have already downloaded the application RCS is already a huge rage for the given device not being compatible with the especially important feature.   

Although RCS enables the users on the Android and iOS to talk to each other, the users on both platforms still get only the basic enhanced messaging experience which is not enough to cover the full capabilities of RCS. This is how the RCS "multi-client fallback" will be maintained for conversations between Android and iPhone users even if Apple decided to adopt the standard.   

The absence of the full native RCS support in iMessages would make Apple users deprived of the advanced features and the possibility to be the beneficiaries of the true potential of RCS. This emphasizes the importance of Apple in either the RCS' adoption as the new universal standard for enhanced messaging or the blocking of the RCS's adoption.   

Overcoming Hurdles and Finding Its Place Despite the steady rollout progress and enthusiasm from major industry stakeholders, there are several hurdles RCS must still overcome to achieve widespread worldwide adoption as the new norm for enhanced messaging:   

Platform Fragmentation: Although RCS is intended to be a device-independent system, the fact that not all platforms accept it means that a global experience is not yet achievable. The customers will still use different apps for separate contacts.   

Competition from OTT Apps: Instant messages, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal, and Telegram, to name a few, already have huge user bases all over the world and have features that are just as good or better than the RCS. Changing users' defaults may be a tough task without having a much better RCS experience which would make them switch.   

Monetization Challenges: RCS differ from consumer OTT apps since there is no premium model for monetization built in. The success of the program depends on carriers/OEMs shouldering the implementation costs or the new RCS-enabled business messaging models will emerge at scale.   

Privacy and Security Scrutiny: A new messaging protocol will be subjected to intense public scrutiny regarding the encryption, privacy, and security standards, particularly in the regions with strong data regulations, like the GDPR. The meeting of regulatory and consumer expectations in 100 percent-secure end-to-end encryption will be crucial.   

RCS' prediction will be determined by the extent to which it can overcome these obstacles and deliver a smooth, safe, and significantly unique experience that is worth the comparison to the deep-rooted messaging apps. With the support of the worldwide mobile industry and big tech companies like Google, it has a true possibility of realizing its dream – but only time will tell if RCS can be the new universal standard for the improved messaging communication across the globe.   

RCS has a promising future, or does it have a dark one? After a lengthy period of development and deployment activities, RCS is finally getting legitimacy as a feasible improved messaging protocol that is supported by the major mobile companies. Nevertheless, the chances of it becoming the universal new standard for mobile messaging with the added features are still far from. 

While major telcos, Android device manufacturers, and tech giants like Google have thrown their weight behind the RCS ecosystem, several factors could still hinder or fragment adoption: While major telcos, Android device manufacturers, and tech giants like Google have thrown their weight behind the RCS ecosystem, several factors could still hinder or fragment adoption:   

Apple's Support or Resistance: Apple's non-native RCS support in iOS/iMessage is the reason RCS is not worldwide, and the users must experience RCS in a unique way when they are in a conversation with an Android phone and an iPhone. Apple's reluctance will be the main factor that will prevent RCS from being able to reach the level of universality that it is promising.   

Overcoming App "Stickiness": Competing OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and others already have an irresistible user base that has been conditioned to that platform and has a specific experience. It may be a daunting task to totally eradicate these oncoming factors without a distinctively different RCS experience that will offer value-added features.   

Privacy and Security Demands: Due to the increasing issues related to privacy and security, RCS should provide a great encryption and personal data protection method. Passing strict requirements and the regulations not met would cause the public to lose their confidence and acceptance of it.   

Monetization and Adoption Incentives: Different from OTT messaging apps with the premium subscription model for monetization, RCS depends on the carriers, device makers, and the new RCS business messaging ecosystem. The inability of Monetization to be strong enough might ruin the ecosystem investment if adoption is stopped at a certain point.   

Although RCS is seen as the one that can increase the standard of native messaging capabilities on mobile devices, it is still unknown if it will surpass the texting while fighting against OTT messaging competitors. Most of the success depends on the involvement of stakeholders like Apple, carriers, and major brands, plus how easily it can fit into a person's digital communication lifestyle. Finally, the consumer's desires will be the real future of RCS messaging. 

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