What is RCS? A Brief History

By: 3C The Messenger – August 8, 2019

Rich Communication Services, or RCS, is a leap forward for the most commonly used app on mobile phones—the SMS inbox. After the first commercial deployment in the early ‘90s, SMS never really evolved significantly, even with all the advancements in cell phone technology. Today, SMS is still restricted to 160 characters of plain text and relies on a cellular connection for delivery. However, OTT (over-the-top) messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have emerged over the last 10 years and have brought with them fascinating new features like rich media, read receipts, location information, and the ability to leverage WiFi for message delivery in areas with poor cellular signal. These features made OTT apps very attractive alternatives to traditional text messaging for many consumers. And to remain relevant, mobile network operators (MNOs) needed to refresh their nearly 30-year-old messaging standard. Here’s a look at the history and major milestones of RCS.

Industry promoters began working on the concept of RCS all the way back in 2007 as a new feature-rich messaging protocol that could keep carrier-based messaging relevant in the age of OTT messaging apps. In 2008, the GSMA officially took over guiding the development of RCS to begin bringing this new protocol to life. And the GSMA has done just that.

In November of 2016, the GSMA published the first globally-agreed upon standard for RCS and its specifications called Universal Profile. This technical specifications document was designed to simplify and normalize the deployment of RCS by outlining the key features under one unified standard. Universal Profile brought to life a new set of features for mobile messaging such as rich cards, carousels, suggested replies and actions, delivery and read receipts, and more. With this new feature set, RCS is poised to enable an intuitive, app-like experience directly in the text messaging inbox.

Since the launch of Universal Profile, RCS has garnered significant support from two tech giants: Samsung and Google. Much of this support has come to lend itself to how brands and enterprises use RCS, or RCS Business Messaging. Samsung has distributed RCS-capable devices globally since 2012 and in the US since 2015. Google, on the other hand, acquired a leading RCS services provider, Jibe Mobile, in 2015 to help bring RCS to the Android operating system. In 2018, Google announced that, in addition to the Jibe team, it would be transitioning its Allo messaging team to focus on RCS rollout. Also helping to further the expansion of RCS in 2018 was the launch of a chatbot directory by Samsung and AT&T. The chatbot directory appears as a separate tab within the native text messaging client on RCS-capable Samsung devices. Users can browse through an alphabetical list of published chatbots and begin a conversation with a bot. This functionality has certainly helped raise awareness of RCS among mobile subscribers.

In 2018, fashion retailer Express became the first North American brand to launch RCS Business Messaging to send a broadcast to its customers. Express also became the first North American brand to publish an RCS chatbot to Samsung and AT&T’s chatbot directory.

This June, in an effort to accelerate RCS adoption, Google announced it would begin opting in subscribers to use RCS within its own native Messages app—circumventing the need to wait for carrier-specific deployments. Subscribers in the UK and France were the first to receive this RCS opt-in option.

Today, RCS and Universal Profile are supported by 79 operators worldwide with a total of monthly active users now over 250 million. And, the mobile research firm Mobilesquared predicts that by 2023 3 billion people will use RCS worldwide. With the number of deployments and in-market trials growing every month, RCS is finally ready to take its place as the much-needed upgrade to SMS.


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