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What Is RCS Messaging, and How Does It Work?

Angela Stringfellow

Last updated on

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is a new and engaging way to stay in touch with friends and family. It can also be utilized by businesses to engage with their customers. In essence, it’s a new feature-rich way to send text messages. Text messaging has been providing the world with immediate communication via a carrier-based cellular connection for over 30 years, becoming one of the most widely used communication channels. That is, until recently.

There are now many ways to communicate digitally through apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and iMessage. So where does this leave texting? To keep up with the competition, smartphone manufacturers, wireless carriers, and the FCC have been working on a plan to enhance texting services through RCS. Learn how RCS messaging works, how it differs from iMessage, and ten of its best features.

What is RCS Messaging?

RCS messaging—also known as RCS Chat or Google Messages (and a few other names)—is a new type of messaging meant to replace short message service (SMS) text messaging and multimedia messaging service (MMS) on Android devices. Essentially, it is the long-overdue update text messaging has needed.

RCS makes sending more information inside a secure text message quick and straightforward by incorporating similar features of popular messaging apps like iMessage or WeChat. This includes new elements like enhanced text features, higher-resolution multimedia, and more.

How Does RCS Messaging Work?

RCS messages rely on mobile network data or Wi-Fi to be sent between users. One caveat: its features will only work if both users have RCS messaging enabled on their Android devices. If someone using RCS sends messages to a person using iMessage (or another non-supported device), the text will be delivered as an SMS/MMS text.

There’s been some uncertainty around whether or not users could enable RCS chat features without a mobile carrier. Formerly, users were required to go through a mobile carrier to enable RCS Chat features, meaning you had to have a voice & data plan through a carrier, such as Verizon or Sprint, to use it. However, Google has now globally implemented RCS via its Google Messages app. Google-owned Jibe Mobile now powers RCS messaging, making carrier support irrelevant (as long as you download the Messages app and access Google's services). There may be a few select instances where RCS availability will be dependent on a service provider as it hasn’t received global support just yet.

How Does RCS Messaging Differ from iMessage?

RCS Messaging is essentially the Android version of Apple’s iMessage. Both messaging services share the same core features you'd expect from any digital communication app.

iMessage is a popular, accessible, and secure messaging app proprietary to Apple, but can only be used between Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. When sending to a device that does not support the app, it will deliver SMS or MMS text. The iMessage app does not require a cellular service, phone number, or SIM card to send text messages to other iMessage users. However, if you don’t have a data plan through a carrier, you will need a wireless internet connection. iMessage allows you to send feature-rich messages via Wi-Fi for free through your Apple ID, but only to other Apple devices. You can learn more about iMessage here.

RCS provides similar capabilities. Much like iMessage, RCS features are available via cellular data or Wi-Fi and you can only send messages between two RCS-enabled Android devices. It also shares a majority of the same features that iMessage offers, like higher quality multimedia and read receipts. One substantial difference was that RCS initially required users to go through a mobile carrier to enable its features. However, Google has since adopted RCS messaging within its own Messages app, which means that regardless of the carrier you’re using, you’ll be able to utilize the service.

The key difference between the two is that iMessage has the advantage of time. It’s been around for years, it’s familiar and simple to use and it has universal support, unlike RCS. However, being an Android-based app, RCS has a slight advantage by not being limited to or controlled by any carrier or mobile device manufacturer, making it available to a larger audience—whereas iMessage is proprietary to Apple.

Features of RCS Messaging

Even though RCS features won’t feel new compared to other digital messaging apps like iMessage, they certainly trump the dated features of SMS/MMS text messaging. Some of RCS messaging’s key features include:

  1. Messages aren't limited to 160 characters
  2. Higher quality photos and multimedia
  3. Delivery, read receipts, and typing indicators
  4. Dynamic group chat and file transfer features
  5. Geolocation sharing
  6. Client-to-server encryption with optional end-to-end encryption (secure texting)
  7. Supports video calls by default
  8. Allows branded messaging
  9. Verifies message senders (no more random spam numbers!)
  10. Receives and sends documents, images, GIFs, and other rich media content

How Do I Enable RCS Messaging on My Phone?

Currently, only Android has enabled RCS messaging, and the majority of newer Android devices will come with RCS already installed. iPhones and other Apple devices do not have this option. If you’re unsure whether or not your phone has RCS, follow these steps.

Enabled RCS on your device:

  1. If not already installed, download Google’s Messages app.
  2. Open the Messages app and select the Options tab located in the upper-right corner.
  3. Select Settings, then choose Chat Features.
  4. Find the Enable Chat Features toggle and turn it On.

Now that RCS Chat Features are enabled, you’re all set. Your device will automatically default to using RCS messaging whenever you’re communicating with someone who also has the tool enabled.