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Texting gets an upgrade

What is RCS and how will it affect business-to-consumer messaging? Business Info explains

Texting
Texting

The first text message, or SMS (Short Message Service), was sent in 1992 when engineer Neil Papworth used his computer to send the message ‘Merry Christmas’ to the mobile phone of Vodafone director Richard Jarvis.

Texting is now an incredibly popular way to stay in contact, despite not having evolved much since its inception. Messages are still restricted to 160 characters and have limited media support, compared to the emojis, images, GIFs, video, audio and group chats offered by popular apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Even Apple’s built-in instant messaging service, iMessage, supports text, images, sound and location.

By bringing together the capabilities of traditional SMS and modern messaging apps, Rich Communication Services (RCS) is seen by many as a long overdue successor to SMS. Incorporated natively into a phone’s default messaging, it provides enhanced features without the need to download additional software. These include, but are not limited to:

File and media sharing;
GIFs;
location sharing;
delivery and read receipts;
group chat;
suggested reply and action buttons;
scrolling carousels; and
video calling.

Engaging communications
As well as making messaging more fun for consumers, these additional features enable business to communicate with customers in a more engaging way.

SMS marketing, with its high opening rates, is already an important part of many communication strategies. RCS offers more conversational customer interactions, branding, better analytics, even the ability for consumers to make reservations and purchases in real-time, directly from the default messaging platform.

According to the RCS Business Messaging Research Study by the GSMA, the trade association for the mobile operator community, and OpenMarket, a provider of mobile messaging solutions, nearly 80% of consumers find RCS appealing and over 70% say it would make them more likely to communicate with a brand.

For consumers, RCS also offers the convenience of a single built-in messaging platform to communicate with multiple brands. In the study cited above, 59% say they would like to use functions built into their phone rather than having to use multiple downloaded apps; and 42% say they dislike switching between apps to contact different brands for different activities.

RCS uptake
One of the biggest benefits of RCS is interoperability. Like SMS, it’s designed to work across all phones and software: users don’t have to create an account and sign in or have the same app or device as someone else to communicate.

Yet, for RCS to replace SMS it needs the support of major mobile service providers and hardware manufacturers and needs to be based on a unified standard.

The GSMA has addressed this requirement with the Universal Profile (UP 2.0), an industry standard developed to simplify and accelerate the adoption of RCS by ensuring that the market provides the same core capabilities for a consistent user experience across networks and phones. This standard is currently backed by over 60 operators, manufacturers and mobile operating system providers, including Vodafone, Samsung, HTC and Google – one of the biggest proponents of RCS because of its value to Android phones.

Currently, Apple is not a backer.

Until it changes its stance, iOS and Android users won’t be able to send rich messages to each other and will have to use apps such as WhatsApp instead.

Even so, if support from the industry continues and carriers can work together to ensure compatibility, RCS has the potential to give text messaging a long overdue and welcome upgrade, for consumers and businesses alike.

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2018