What is RCS?

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is the protocol that will replace SMS. The protocol got off to a very slow start: It was formed by a group of industry promoters in 2007 and brought under the wings of the GSM Association, a trade body, in 2008, but carrier participation and other factors kept it from gaining any real steam for nearly a decade.

In 2018, Google announced it had been working with every major cell phone carrier in the world to adopt the RCS protocol. The result is Chat, a protocol based on RCS Universal Profile that will supersede SMS.

“We like to call it the next evolution of SMS,” Andy Shirey, senior product manager at Open Market, told Digital Trends. “It’s richer messaging content with features like read receipts that are great to have.”

So what features should we expect to see on Chat? Well, it’s going to look a lot like iMessage and other messaging apps. It’s a more interactive protocol that allows you to start group chats and send video and audio messages, as well as high-resolution images. You’ll also be able to receive read receipts and even see when someone is replying to your message in real time.

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In addition to all of the features you’d expect on a messaging app, it looks like Chat will have some nice surprises in store.

Google has been working with businesses to add helpful features to Chat to improve communication. For example, Chat will be able to send live updates about upcoming trips and boarding passes, and even allow you to select your seat from within the Android Messages app.

Instead of using a cellular connection, Chat will rely on your data connection. It’s also hardware agnostic, meaning it will work across multiple devices. And while Chat could work on iOS, Apple has yet to announce if its phones will support the protocol.

There is one crucial element missing from chat, however. While the original RCS protocol allowed the implementation of client-to-server encryption, Chat will not offer end-to-end encryption like iMessage or Signal. In short, it allows for the same legal intercept standards as its predecessor.

How will Chat work on RCS?

Let’s be clear, Chat is not another Android-based messaging app; it’s the user-friendly name for the RCS protocol. That said, Chat will initially only be available on two apps: Android Messages and Samsung Messages. While this may seem a bit limiting, the majority of smartphone manufacturers ship their devices with Android’s default messaging app.

There’s a lot of moving pieces required to make Chat actually work. First, your carrier will need to support the protocol. You’ll also need to have a device and messaging app that supports Chat. Finally, your recipient will need to have Chat as well; if they do not, Chat messages revert to SMS.

Android Messages on Web

While it may be a number of months before we see the final Chat rollout, Google released a web version of Android Messages last year. In the near future, Android users will be able to pair their Messages app to the web service via a QR code, allowing the full Chat experience from a computer.

Who supports Chat?

RCS Universal Profile

For nearly a decade, it was difficult to gain widespread support for the RCS protocol. While some carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile were o nboard fairly early, many manufacturers were more reticent.

Since RCS requires both a software and network update, many manufacturers didn’t want to develop software to make their devices retroactively support the protocol.

In the United States, all of the major carriers have signaled their support for Chat. This means, for the most part, it should be fairly easy for mobile virtual network operators to support the protocol as well.

When will we see Chat?

When we will actually see Chat is the million-dollar question, but recent news suggests it may come sooner rather than later. Google has announced that it’s taking over the rollout of RCS in place of carriers — and Android users in the U.K. and France will be able to opt in to using an RCS Chat service directly from Google, instead of waiting for carrier support.

That means all Android phones could soon get support for the new standard — with or without carrier support.

Carriers may want to support Chat eventually — and some carriers have made steps to ensure that happens. Here’s a rundown of carrier support for RCS Universal Profile.

  • Sprint: While Sprint has already rolled out RCS Universal Profile, you’ll need a supported device to take advantage of it — and you’ll need to be talking to someone with a supported device too.
  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile has begun rolling out RCS Universal Profile to some smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. On its message boards, the carrier said it plans to bring the feature to many of its smartphones by the end of the year.
  • AT&T: AT&T has agreed to the RCS standard, but there’s still no word on a rollout. When we contacted AT&T for more information, a representative told Digital Trends that the carrier had “nothing additional to share on timing.”
  • Verizon: Verizon is rolling out RCS to supported phones. Expect more support this year.
  • Google Fi: Google Fi now supports RCS on all Fi phones.