Apple is expected to add support for RCS messages to its iOS platform later this year. The move could supercharge a technology that many in the US had written off as mostly dead just a few years ago.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

March 29, 2024

4 Min Read
People holding iPhones in Mumbai Apple Store
(Source: Apple)

Later this year it appears that most new smartphones in the US will be able to support the Rich Communications Services (RCS) messaging standard.

That situation would undoubtedly rekindle interest in a messaging standard that promises to supercharge standard, text-only SMS messaging with pictures, video, typing indicators, read receipts and other functions.

But it has certainly been a long and rough road.

The latest drama: A Google webpage briefly teased the arrival of RCS on Apple iPhones. According to TechCrunch, the new Google Messages page briefly claimed that "Apple has announced it will be adopting RCS in the fall of 2024. Once that happens, it will mean a better messaging experience for everyone." However, that message has now been removed from the Google Messages page.

Regardless, it would align with an announcement from Apple late last year that it would begin supporting RCS sometime in 2024. "We will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users," the company wrote in a statement to media outlets in November.

Apple is widely expected to release a new version of its iOS operating system during its WWDC event in June. That event is expected to focus heavily on AI technology. And Apple's new iOS is expected to be released in September, likely with a new iPhone.

Apple's newfound support for RCS would seem to resurrect a technology that some had written off just a few years ago. "While some challenges still remain in terms of pricing and to ensure that the right automated billing systems are in place, the future for RCS does seem to be rosy, for now at least," analyst Paolo Pescatore wrote recently.

A long and winding road

RCS technology first surfaced more than a decade ago when the GSMA was marketing it under the Joyn brand. The association's hope was that operators such as Vodafone and Verizon would use RCS to create all sorts of interoperable multimedia messaging features similar to Facebook's WhatsApp – essentially supercharging standard, text-only SMS messaging.

In an effort to bring RCS to the US, Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint launched the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI) in 2019. However, that initiative fell apart in 2021. Since then, each of the big operators has separately moved their RCS services onto Google's Jibe platform (which pushed CCMI vendor Synchronoss Technologies to sell its RCS messaging business earlier this month).

Others have exited the RCS space. For example, Mavenir last year confirmed it would shift away from RCS messaging technology and would instead focus on its open RAN and packet core offerings.

Apple, meanwhile, is facing a new antitrust lawsuit from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that alleges Apple used anticompetitive practices to protect its smartphone business. Among the suit's claims: Apple protects its smartphone monopoly by "degrading and undermining cross-platform messaging apps and rival smartphones."

The new RCS opportunity

Google's interest in RCS comes as no surprise. The Android backer acquired RCS provider Jibe Mobile in 2015, and has since been working to rally wireless network operators to the platform.

Those efforts gained steam last year when AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – the three big wireless network operators in the US – shifted their RCS operations onto Jibe.

Google argues on its website that wireless network operators can offer a variety of new services via RCS Business Messaging (RBM). Specifically, it claims that operators can use the platform to provide more effective text-based customer care, including messages about promotions, roaming and loyalty programs. The company added that RBM response rates are as much as 150% better than SMS response rates that are typically in the range of 0.5% to 3%.

And for Google, RCS represents yet another facet of the Internet giant's massive advertising business. The company touts a variety of RCS-based advertising programs for all kinds of business. Fast food chain Sonic, for example, teamed up with RCS vendor Mobivity in 2020 to run its first RCS Business Messaging campaign, with the goal of increasing its online orders. 

Google said customers in Sonic's campaign downloaded its app five times more than those who received standard text and multimedia messages.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like