Unlocking the Potential of Rich Communication Services (RCS)

Ever since Apple announced its intentions to natively support Rich Communication Services (RCS) on their iPhones by 2024, the technology received a new spur of attention. And for good reason, as we will see further down in this article. Even though RCS came as a technical revolution promising to bridge the gap between traditional SMS and a more feature-rich communication experience, it saw a slow but steady adoption, mainly among Android handsets. Let’s see what the hype is all about.

Definition and Overview of Rich Communication Services (RCS)

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is an advanced messaging protocol specified by the GSMA meant to enable mobile networks to offer a state-of-the-art messaging experience to their subscribers and, with that, extend the hugely successful story of SMS. RCS enhances communication beyond SMS, allowing multimedia sharing, group chats, location sharing, and interactive features like typing indicators and read receipts. 

RCS: Evolution from SMS to Next-Level Messaging

Rich Communication Services (RCS) represents a significant evolution from traditional SMS. While SMS has long been the standard for text messaging, its limitations became increasingly apparent as users demanded richer, more interactive communication experiences. RCS emerged as the solution to address these limitations, offering a seamless transition from basic text messaging to a more feature-rich messaging platform.

RCS emerged in the mid-2000s as an initiative by the GSMA to enhance voice calling with additional services like sharing location and files while on the call as well as having rich messaging beyond traditional SMS. One of the obstacles to adoption back then was the lack of mobile handset support (we are talking Nokia, Sony-Ericcson and many other pre-smartphone players). In 2012, a marketing initiative known as “Joyn” tried to rally more momentum behind RCS, and by then, the aim was shifting to compete with then emerging OTT messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Google Steps In

Despite all the early efforts, RCS seemed to be a dead horse until, in 2016/17, Google entered the picture by acquiring the RCS software vendor Jibe and, most importantly, adding native RCS support to Android. Google’s entrance also helped to clean up the RCS specification with the definition of a so-called Universal Profile (UP), which removed far too many optional components and local variants of the prior RCS specs.

UP2.x brought exciting interactive RCS Business Messaging (RBM) capabilities like carousels and buttons – elevating the messaging experience to an almost website-like level. Still, MNO adoption of RCS was slow, and the GSMA marketed a lot to promote further roll-outs by, e.g., coining the notion of a golden country, i.e., a country where all national MNOs supported RCS – with Japan receiving that attribute as a first.

Around the end of 2019, equally frustrated Google about the RCS pace changed gears and started to roll out guested RCS for operators without RCS, making it a de facto OTT service in these networks. That spurred more MNOs to get active, e.g., with a German-wide launch by T-Mobile, Vodafone, and Telefonica in early 2020—only to stop all efforts with the upcoming pandemic. RCS literally got infected and had to rest.

Now, RCS seems to have recovered, and Apple’s latest announcement spurs further interest in this already meandering story.

RCS and Encryption

Now that we’ve mentioned encryption, it’s time to set the records straight. Many people associate end-to-end encryption with the RCS protocol. However, this is not very accurate. As we stand, although efforts are being made to implement native end-to-end encryption within the RCS Universal Profile, the base protocol is not much safer than a regular SMS.

The confusion stems from the fact that Google imbued its RCS-based Messaging app with end-to-end encryption both for private chats (in 2020) and for group chats (in 2023). To achieve this, Google leveraged RCS’s native API capabilities and implemented a version of the Signal end-to-end encryption. You can read more here.

To cut the chase. Does RCS feature end-to-end encryption? The best current answer is: No, but actually yes. It’s up to the apps to implement their own proprietary encryption on top of the RCS protocol via the extension route.

However, this is not all. In a statement to 9to5Mac, talking about the RCS support for iMessage, an Apple representative explicitly said that:

“Apple will work with the GSMA members on ways to further improve the RCS protocol. This particularly includes improving the security and encryption of RCS messages. Apple also told 9to5Mac that it will not use any sort of proprietary end-to-end encryption on top of RCS. Its focus is on improving the RCS standard itself.”

In other words, the future is bright and… encrypted.

The end game for the user experience: Interoperability

Probably one of the most important benefits for the end-user is the interoperability RCS is trying to promote.

GSMA tries to improve connectivity options through the implementation of the RCS Universal Profile standards, facilitating seamless integration and interoperability of various messaging services and platforms. This translates into a better communication experience between users using different messaging apps. This unified approach eliminates the fragmentation often encountered with disparate messaging services, creating a cohesive and streamlined communication ecosystem. As a result, users can enjoy a more cohesive experience, accessing advanced features and interacting with contacts across different messaging applications without encountering compatibility issues or limitations.

Now, what are those cross-app limitations, you might ask? Well, let’s look at one of the most popular examples.

More than just a green vs. a blue bubble conundrum

Besides all the interoperability technicalities, what’s in it for the end users, specifically? Well, a lot. Especially in terms of experience when an Android and an Apple handset message each other. Up to this point, Apple was processing all the messages coming from an Android device via the SMS and MMS protocols, compressing all the media files and rendering very poor image and video quality. And yes, everything was unencrypted.

This is where RCS will make a huge difference. Besides providing (in-transit) encryption to all the messages and great media quality between the two systems, users will probably also benefit from:

–          Typing indicators

–          Read receipts

–          Message reactions

–          Inline replies

In other words, this is a huge step forward in terms of interoperability and end-user experience. But other than this, we believe that Apple users can rest assured that green bubbles will remain green, and blue bubbles will remain blue, marking the difference between an Apple device and a non-Apple device.


The advent of RCS marks a significant milestone in the evolution of messaging technology. With its promise of bridging the gap between traditional SMS and a more feature-rich communication experience, RCS brings forth many capabilities that redefine how we connect and interact. From multimedia sharing to enhanced security measures, RCS offers users a seamless and engaging messaging platform.

As we look ahead to the future of communication, we cannot miss the importance of interoperability, especially now, in 2024, when Apple itself is implementing RCS support. The RCS Universal Profile leads the charge in enabling seamless integration and compatibility across various messaging platforms. This advancement promises a more interconnected digital environment, where communication transcends boundaries and fosters a unified user experience.

We are all now closely watching how Apple will actually implement RCS and its implications for interoperability—excitement is guaranteed.

Feel free to reach out to a GTC representative for further insights and guidance on unlocking the full potential of RCS. The future of communication is here, and it’s brighter and more interconnected than ever before.

Global Telco Consult (GTC) is a trusted independent business messaging consultancy with deep domain knowledge in application-to-person (A2P) services. GTC provides tailor-made messaging strategies to enterprises, messaging service providers, operators and voice carriers. We have expertise in multiple messaging channels such as RCS, Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram and SMS for the wholesale and retail industry. Additionally, GTC offers Digital Identity and Fraud advisory services, aiding clients in navigating the complexities of digital identity verification and fraud prevention, while also providing Recruitment services, assisting businesses in acquiring top talent within the telecom and technology sectors.

GTC supports its customers from market strategy through service launch, running the operations and supporting sales and procurement. The company started in 2016 with a mission to guide operators and telcos to embrace new and exciting opportunities and make the most out of business messaging. For more information or industry insights, browse through our blog page or follow us on LinkedIn.

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