RCS & Mobile Messaging, A Brief History

The mobile messaging industry is on the cusp of making the next evolution of application-to-person (A2P) messaging go mainstream. RCS messages (Rich Communications Services) offer functionality and a user experience far surpassing that provided by SMS today. With a growing user base already in excess of 174 million users worldwide, 2019 is expected to be the year when consumers and businesses start to really expand into using RCS.

Here at aql we are asked on a weekly basis about when our customers can start using RCS en masse to contact their end users. With this is mind we thought it would be useful to look at the state of the market and a brief recap of the history of mobile messaging. Enjoy!

Mobile messaging – a brief recap

The first humble SMS was sent in late 1992, using GSM protocols which were defined way back in the mid-80s. Even though we collectively now send over 8 trillion SMS each year, the core functionality of an SMS text message has not changed. MMS picture messaging was introduced in 2002 to deliver various improvements, but the technology never gained the same traction as SMS, currently making up less than 5% of global mobile messaging traffic.

SMS is by far one of the most effective ways for businesses to communicate with their customers and staff. Sources vary, but text messages have a reported open rate of 90-98%, which is significantly better than email which has a 20-25% chance of being opened. Whatsmore, the lightweight nature of SMS interactions makes replies much quicker than with email, with SMS replies typically within 90 seconds, compared to 90 minutes or more with email.

Since the introduction of contemporary smartphones in the late 2000s the market has seen the release and rapid growth of over-the-top (OTT) applications such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, and WeChat. These offer richer features, allowing users to share photos & videos, see when a message has been read, and see when a reply is being composed (to name just a few.) These applications have experienced exponential growth and combined now have billions of monthly active users.

These OTT platforms pose a challenge to incumbent mobile networks and the surrounding ecosystem as they break the pricing model of charging users for texts, indeed the consumer value of person-to-person (P2P) SMS is now so low that most contracts and pay-as-you-go bundles include ‘unlimited’ SMS for relatively low costs. This is in stark contrast to the A2P SMS market which has continually grown year-on-year as businesses realise the value and potential ROI in sending consumers simple SMS text messages.

The RCS standard emerges – slowly


Recognising the need for advanced functionality, the Rich Communication Suite Industry Initiative was formed in 2007, and in 2008 the GSMA formed a steering committee to define what would become the RCS messaging standard. In 2016 the GSMA released the ‘Universal Profile’ which defines a fully interoperable standard for advanced communications, which networks can implement to handle RCS messages.

RCS is a carrier protocol, in the same vein as SMS, but one that adds features including picture, video and document transfer; group messaging; customer branding; account verification; read receipts; and in-line action buttons to prompt users to take certain actions along differing customer journeys.

RCS messaging will be baked into phones by default, and the real differentiator from OTT applications, such as WhatsApp, is the ability to contact someone directly using just their telephone number, and for messages to appear on the end users phone without them needing to install an app or to sign up for an account.

Google Jibe & RCS

Google Logo On Building

In September 2015, Google acquired Jibe Mobile, a cloud start-up that, among other things, was working on RCS. Through Jibe, Google is now pushing RCS as the de facto future messaging standard to replace SMS.

Google is uniquely placed to push through RCS. By leveraging the Android install base they will be able to reach out to roughly 75% of the worldwide mobile market. The default Android Messages app is now RCS ready, as is the default messaging client which Samsung pre-load onto their handsets.

Many mobile networks and telcos, including aql, are building the infrastructure and solutions in order to bring RCS to the mass market. The market is working towards a critical mass when RCS will become ubiquitous, and this reality is closer every day.

The elephant in the room

Apple iPhone

The worldwide smartphone industry is currently a duopoly between Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems. Combined they account for 98% of smartphone users, with roughly 75% of users on Android and 23% of users on iOS.

Whilst Google has been pushing for RCS, Apple has yet to formally announce plans to adopt the technology. Apple commonly leverages the second-mover-advantage and waits until tech is more matured before implementing changes. A slide shown at the Rio de Janeiro GSMA event from October 2018 shows that Apple has been in talks with Operators and the GSMA themselves about adopting RCS. It is expected that once RCS has reached a critical mass Apple will RCS-enable the iOS Messages app via a firmware update.

GSMA Slide Showing Apple RCS Position

The next steps

For a long time the industry has been caught up in a chicken-and-egg situation, especially in the UK and mainland Europe, where network operators have been slow to adopt RCS. This is starting to change due to demand from enterprises and awareness of the technology that will soon be available. Indeed the various RCS pilot schemes have shown that end users enjoy the richer experience from RCS, and this has driven increased conversions from RCS marketing campaigns compared to traditional SMS.

If you are interested in adopting RCS and benefiting from the enhanced features available, then please get in touch. aql are looking for a limited number of interested customers to conduct RCS proof-of-concept trials using our beta RCS platform. If you are interested please contact us at rcs@uk.aql.com


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