Google is partnering with mobile operators across the world to push a replacement technology for SMS called Rich Communications Services (RCS). The standard would enable more advanced features found in today’s messaging apps like the ability to send photos and videos, create group chats, and to see when another user is typing.
The long overdue upgrade would help operators catch up with “over-the-top” (OTT) internet messaging services like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger and -- they hope -- regain some of that lost revenue.
The GSMA has been promoting RCS since 2008 and some operators already offer a variation of the technology under various brand names. But with today’s announcement the goal is to get everyone on board towards a common, universal and Android RCS client provided by Google in collaboration with operators and OEMs.
Is it too little too late? Probably. At this point Facebook already dominates the messaging scene with 2 billion monthly active users between Messenger and WhatsApp, while Tencent's WeChat and QQ Messenger claims 1.5 billion.
That said, a single universal standard that works across carriers out-of-the box is still a step in the right direction, and with Android’s huge market share this is the carriers’ best bet. But even if RCS succeeds it’s unclear if carriers will be able to find a way to monetize it in a world where OTT messaging apps are completely free.
At this point there’s no clear timeframe on when Google will be delivering the RCS client. Although today’s announcement is all about Android, Google says RCS can be implemented by other operating systems too.