Explained: What is RCS messaging and why should you care about it?

3 min read

RCS has been in the news a lot recently with Google announcing Messenger to be the first app to utilize it, and Sprint being the first carrier to embrace it. But what exactly is RCS Messaging, and how will it affect our daily social lives?

First, RCS only refers to SMS and MMS, and in a world where apps and services like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Snapchat, that definition will already eliminate a ton of users. RCS is an advanced form of messaging that will be a standard among all carriers and smartphones. Along with being THE new standard in messaging, RCS will add other features including: higher quality picture messaging up to 10MB in size, group chats, location sharing, even video calls by default, read receipts, and typing indicators. All of these you’re probably familiar with from other services, the difference here being this would be preinstalled on your phone and work with any other phone that people have, regardless of model or carrier.

While all that may seem wonderful additions to SMS and MMS, RCS does have a handful of downfalls and obstacles before it can truly become the standard we need. One of the biggest issues with it is that it’s fighting to become the new standard. RCS is being pushed and developed by Google, but Verizon has their own variant, AT&T and T-Mobile have their own variant, Apple has iMessage, and there are even more. So we have another method trying to be the only one, and we all know how that usually goes (read: USB Type-C).

While Google is trying to convince everyone to get on board — and Sprint has already signed on — we must remember that it’ll be an uphill battle as each carrier will try to pump out their own variant and add in small carrier-only features. Plus, Apple still has absolutely zero need for traditional RCS.

Another issue is that for RCS to work, the sending and receiving devices must be using the same standard. In that case, using Verizon’s advanced messaging to communicate with T-Mobile’s advanced messaging will not yield any advanced features. In order to enjoy the limited advanced features we have now, we have to make sure people are using the same services we are. This is somewhat fragmentation, of what has the potential of being a great standard.

Lastly, even if we get all carriers and Google to use the same standard, likely the one that Google is developing, we’ll still have a fight against Apple. Apple has circumvented carrier involvement in their messaging platform. As long as you’re using an Apple product you can enjoy special features only available to other users of Apple products. I don’t see Apple changing that anytime soon, and just like the case with micro USB, everyone will be using one standard, while Apple will be somewhere else.

So back to the original questions at hand. What is RCS Messaging: it is a new standard in communicating across all platforms with advanced features. Does it matter, yes, in a way. It could be the next great development in the mobile space, but has a long and arduous battle ahead of it.