September 9, 2019
RCS (Rich Communication Services) is a next-generation SMS messaging platform. It allows users to take advantage of several features that were previously exclusive to siloed messaging apps like WhatsApp and iMessage. Now, when you message a friend or family member, RCS users will have access to all kinds of features like typing indicators, high-definition content, and read receipts. Originally envisioned to be the direct replacement to SMS, it’s struggled slightly to take off. We examine the current state of RCS and the challenges it faces in adoption.
The idea behind RCS dates back as far as 2007. That’s when the GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association), a group of about 800 or so carriers around the world, began thinking about the future of messaging. It imagined a service that’s carried the same way as cellular data and would enable voice calls, video and photo sharing, group chat, and more. There’d be no need to sign up or create accounts and it’d be as simple and ubiquitous as texting.
Sadly, the GSMA’s idea was visionary, but since then the standard has devolved into a complicated morass of spin-off-politicking and branding confusion. One industry analyst said this of the service: “It’s infected with bureaucracy, complexity, and irrelevance; a zombie: dead, but somehow still ambling around.” This is obviously in complete contrast with the sleek, streamlined service that was originally conceived. Until all parties involved can align on what the service should look like and how it should be leveraged, RCS may struggle to make a continued impact.
Here’s the pitch: Once it's widely adopted, you’ll be able to enjoy all the features of platforms like WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, iMessage and WeChat without creating an account, signing into a social network or worrying about whether someone has a phone capable of using the app. But, despite its apparent potential, service providers have been wary of supporting it.
At the beginning of 2017, only 49 operators had launched RCS across their network. Despite Google’s purchasing of Jibe to streamline the service, incompatibility remains a challenge. AT & T in the US, for example, implemented an older standard that doesn’t work with T-Mobile or Verizon’s version. That’s opposed to SMS, which is completely ubiquitous. The adoption of the Universal Profile last year has gone a long way in negating this, but it remains a challenge.
It should come as no surprise that a service like this costs money. The likes of RCS chatbot research and implementing the infrastructure for the service doesn’t come cheap. And this is likely to be the case, even if it does take off and everyone has it. If you get the basic RCS messaging for AT&T, for example, they could still charge you if you wanted to have, say, Wi-Fi messaging, high-res photos or the like.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to the adoption of RCS is Apple. The battle between Google and Apple is as intense as ever. And as much as we’d love it for them to cooperate just this one time and launch RCS within their messages app, it’s highly unlikely. If RCS brings what it’s promising to bring to all phones, then by implementing it in their messaging, Apple is effectively handing sales to Android.
While Google’s acquisition of Jibe in their pursuit of making RCS a thing is promising, it’s still going to take a while to convince more carriers to adopt it. In the meantime, we remain hopeful. If you’re interested in learning more about RCS, read our article outlining why it's is relevant, touching on new RCS chatbots and looks at why the technology matters. If you're interested adopting this technology, try out our RCS business messaging solution.