Mobile text messaging has long been an important source of revenue for phone carriers around the world. Metered charges for sending SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) are still in place for many users. In response, app-based messengers including WhatsApp (used by over 1 billion people), Facebook Messenger, LINE, iMessage, and WeChat have grown in popularity.
Today, Google and industry group GSMA announced an initiative to better compete with these apps using an enhanced version of SMS called Rich Communications Services (RCS). The new standard promises better group chat features, high-resolution photo and file sharing, video calling services, and read receipts, a long-time feature of app-based messengers.
Implementations of RCS in the U.S. have included AT&T and T-Mobile, with the former currently supporting what they call "Advanced Messaging" on the Galaxy S5 Mini and S6 Active, and T-Mobile extending RCS to the Galaxy S5, S6, Note 5 and Edge, LG K7 and V10. Microsoft has also included support for the standard inside its stock Messaging app on Windows 10 Mobile while using the two carriers.
In light of the slow uptake to the new standard, the announcement today describes how RCS will be further unified to speed Google’s development under Android, while accelerating testing and interoperability between carriers (though Verizon and Sprint are absent from the group). Despite Google's involvement, RCS remains open to other operating systems. The company is committed to providing an open source version of the client, currently named Jibe, as well as developer APIs to “enhance the client experience".
Over the years, the proliferation of messaging services has created a battle of systems and standards. In order to tame the confusion, there have been efforts by apps to include SMS. Apple's iMessage has always supported both SMS and its own Apple-only service. Facebook Messenger for Android is currently testing SMS integration and now allows non-Facebook members to use the app; however, while Google Hangouts on Android includes SMS support, the app is now curiously moving to jettison SMS in favor of pointing its users to Google's largely unknown Messenger app to handle carrier-based texting.