RCS Standard Will Bring Multimedia Capabilities to Messaging

SMS messaging is popular, be it Apple’s iMessage, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. But these messaging services aren’t interoperable: a Facebook user can’t use Messenger to reach someone on iMessage, for example. A solution is on the horizon with RCS — Rich Communication Services — an online protocol adopted by the GSM Association to replace SMS, and one that adds significant multimedia capabilities. The GSMA, a trade group that represents 750+ mobile operators and others in the mobile ecosystem, came up with Universal Profile, a standard that underlies RCS.

The Verge reports that, so far, 55 carriers (including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile); 11 hardware manufacturers (Samsung, Lenovo and LG) and Google and Microsoft have vowed support for RCS. The protocol will enable users to easily send plain and fancy text, GIFs, high-resolution still photos and videos, and will also send a receipt to show the message was received. Users will be able “to create longer messages and attach larger files.”

RCS also powers “much better group messaging than SMS can handle.” RCS, it adds, “will also make it easier for companies to interact with the customers,” by quickly finding out the status of an order or encouraging customer comments. Apple, however, has not voiced support, whereas “Google has been a major backer of RCS and even offers back-end services to carriers to help them quickly spin up support for it.”

Actually launching RCS depends on the carriers, and Verizon has started a limited debut of the Universal Profile service, only for Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones. T-Mobile is also offering similar service for Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge phones in June, whereas “Sprint announced it was launching RCS with Universal Profile to its devices in early November, and promised that all its new 2019 devices would come with RCS preloaded.”

Support for the Universal Profile standard means it should, in principle, support cross-carrier messaging. But The Verge notes that, “if you look at the carrier sites, they only claim to communicate within their networks, and we have not yet been able to test whether RCS-capable T-Mobile or Sprint devices can exchange RCS messages with Pixel 3 phones.”

Some critics pointed out that RCS “lacks the end-to-end encryption available in some current messaging tools such as WhatsApp.” But RCS is actually pretty secure, since it “does have all the standard security protocols, including Transport Layer Security (the underlying tech behind HTTPS), and IPsec (Internet Protocol Security), which is used in VPNs.”