Rich Communication Services (RCS) is touted as the messaging system that will, one day, replace SMS. Those with a few grey hairs will remember the early days of SMS when you could only send messages to people on the same network. But once that changed, SMS became a far more useful tool.
RCS is still a carrier specific service but negotiations between the GSMA, which represents carriers and tech companies, suggests we may be moving to a post-SMS future.
RCS adds a bunch of nifty features to the messaging experience. It includes new tools such as read receipts, an indicator of when someone is replying, group messaging and easier transmission of high-resolution images and other media. And if that sounds a lot like services like WhatsApp and iMessage - you're spot on. But RCS is a carrier based, rather than proprietary, protocol.
Australian Carriers And RCS
In Australia, Telstra already supports RCS. They've branded it as Telstra Messaging and says that "as other domestic carriers launch RCS, Telstra will interwork with their services in the same way as SMS & MMS". However, neither Optus nor Vodafone offer RCS-based services locally yet. At the moment, the only devices RCS/Telstra Messaging supports here are the Samsung Galaxy S7 onward, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 onward and all Google Pixel phones.
Tech Companies And RCS
Google's strategy around chat applications is still pretty messy with Allo scheduled for the scrap heap and Hangouts being split into two pieces. The chat part of Hangouts will be given RCS compatibility according to some reports but that may not be good news.
According to reports, negotiations are underway with Apple to support RCS with a slide from a recent GSMA event published on Reddit suggesting carriers are working with Apple to add RCS support. Of course, whether Apple would want to enable a service that directly competes with iMessage is an interesting question. And with Apple fighting governments around the world over access to encrypted messages it will be interesting to see if they want to support a service that could be, potentially less secure, as government relationships with established telecommunication carriers are quite different to those with tech companies that operate outside the tractional regulatory environments Telstra and its peers work within.
RCS And Security
One of the challenges RCS will face with getting the support of the tech community and users is that it does not support end-to-end encryption. While RCS is more secure than SMS and MMS, it can be subject to lawful interception by police and other similar agencies. In today's age of sophisticated hacking, where easily acquired devices like SIM boxes can be used to infiltrate carrier networks, not encrypting everything from end to end is a significant issue.