The messaging world is fractured. There’s iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Whatsapp, and a plethora of other chat or messaging apps out there. Each offers its own emojis, fonts, smiley faces, and quirks. But Google has an ambitious plan to use SMS text messaging as a way to unite these messaging apps under the Android umbrella. It’s called Rich Communications Services or RCS.

Expanding the network

In February 2017, the Android giant added 27 new carriers to the RCS network as it continues to roll out its latest innovation. The RCS initiative will add more dynamic features to the native Android Messages SMS app. Users can now expect features like group chats, high-res photo sharing, read receipts, and typing indicators alongside their usual MMS and SMS services. It’s all about bringing enhanced messages to one centralized platform.

While RCS won’t initially be as ubiquitous as the likes of iMessage, several large manufacturers have come to the party and endorsed the initiative claiming the technology will be embedded into their future phones so that it’s preloaded on devices sold around the world. To date, about 1 billion people have access to this new messaging technology, but Google is confident that this number will skyrocket once RCS is rolled out completely.

The evolution of SMS

SMS is one of the most widely used services on mobile devices around the world. But the 160-character functionality was developed for the flip phone age. Nowadays phone’s are smarter and somewhat more powerful and users expect more functionality. They want to be able to share pictures, know when their messages have been read and see if someone’s typing back. Even the ability to join or leave a group is an almost expected functionality these days.

Although RCS has been around since as early as 2007, the technology of mobile devices limited its use. Until late last year.

What RCS will bring to the table

“Last year it was about getting alignment with different partners and working to get the technology pieces in place,” said Amir Sarhangi, Google’s head of RCS. “This year it’s about launching the service, so subscribers can start enjoying the enhanced features. It means that Android phone users on the mobile carriers that we [Google] select will see an automatic upgrade to their SMS messaging experience. It will give them the same kind of sophisticated functionality that’s already offered on other messaging apps.”

Google’s point man goes on to cite interactive SMS messages for flight check-ins complete with boarding passes and terminal maps as an example of the helpful use of such technology. In that regard, businesses will find the technology useful with the ability to push branded messages and wholesale sharing functionality. Anything from static high-res images to video clips and gifs can be shared across this platform.

Google is offering an early access program for businesses to learn and interact with this technology, influence its future development and standards, and be the first to offer their customers the upgraded messaging experience.

This is a great selling point to push for future carriers who have found users on their messaging networks waning in favor of other apps, causing revenues to stutter and leaving assets in the carriers’ networks unused.

Users still have to use Google’s Messenger app to take advantage of RCS and Google still offers its Hangouts and Allo apps, but aims to bring these all together in the future under RCS and Android Messenger to give the user a more streamlined experience. This may mean that future SMS services will send messages that are interoperable – that is what is sent from one handset will be seen the same way when received on another handset. This is something that SMS has only managed in the most basic, text-only scenarios previously.
To learn more about other trends in the SMS game, read our article on which outlines how SMS can be used to enhance business operations and open up new channels of communication between your business and its customers. Or, read more about our new RCS business messaging solution and find out how you can get early access.

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