What are RCS Chats? A Guide Blog Comparing Them to SMS and WhatsApp.

· 7 min read
Guide blog on RCS chats

Your old-school SMS, MMS, iMessage, and WhatsApp have a competitor in RCS- Rich Communication Services. It offers an advanced and better messaging experience by incorporating features you might have noticed in the former messaging apps.

This blog will act as a guide on RCS messages and answer some frequently asked questions about the messaging protocol. It provides an in-depth comparison of RCS with SMS and WhatsApp to highlight the similarities and differences.

What is an RCS Message?

Google describes its RCS chats as an upgraded and rich messaging experience. Rich Communication Services (RCS) is an advanced messaging protocol that Android users can use within their phone’s native messaging app, without having to install or pay for a new application from the store.

The messages in an RCS chat are sent over WiFi and mobile data. RCS chats are provided by Google or your mobile carrier. The RCS messages work only when all participants in the conversation have RCS.

RCS chats are advanced because of the following features.

  • It shows when someone is typing.
  • It offers Read Receipts, which can be turned on or off from the Settings. The Read Receipts show the conversing participants when the message has been delivered with a single tick and a double tick when the message has been read by the recipient.
  • You can share files and high-resolution pictures, videos, and images.
  • Make an audio and a video call.
  • You can create groups using your contacts.

The snaps below show how RCS chats work when all participants have RCS enabled vs when they don’t.

RCS chats are enabled in Android phones. iOS does not support RCS chats yet.
RCS chats are available for Android users. iOS does not support it yet.

Deepshikha uses an Android phone where RCS is enabled. Abhishek uses an iPhone which does not support RCS yet. So, in his case, all messages will be sent as SMS/MMS.

How does RCS Chat work?

When you communicate through RCS chats by Google, the messages are transmitted through Google's RCS backend over the internet. If your recipient is using RCS services from a different provider, your messages are routed through Google's RCS backend before reaching the recipient's RCS backend.

However, the delivery of SMS and MMS messages, which rely on your carrier, remains unchanged when using RCS chats.

To ensure proper message delivery, Google may utilize information such as your phone number, device identifiers, and SIM card number. This data might be stored for approximately one month to maintain RCS connectivity and manage situations where you might temporarily lose internet connection.

Upon enabling RCS chats and when sending messages, Google scans your contacts to determine if they also have access to RCS chats. These scans may involve Google's RCS backend and other service providers to reach your contacts effectively.

RCS vs SMS will also be an interesting play to observe in business communication.

Which Devices Support RCS Chats?

Google’s RCS messaging is available on all Android devices that have an internet connection. In situations where the user is offline, the messages are sent as an SMS.

As of now, RCS is not available for iOS.

Can RCS Messages be Sent Without an Internet Connection?

While SMS can be sent over a cellular network, RCS messages require the internet. You can send your RCS chat as an SMS when

  • The recipient does not have the option of RCS messaging.
  • The recipient has RCS chat enabled, but is not online.
  • Your device loses internet connection.

As you can see in the pictures below, the RCS chat is not delivered and shows “Waiting to connect: tap for options 🔒"

On tapping the unsent message, you get the following options.

  • Turn data on in device settings
  • Switch to text (SMS/MMS)
  • Stop sending and delete
RCS messages can be sent as SMS/MMS when there is no internet connection.
RCS messages can be sent as an SMS/MMS when you are offline

Will RCS Replace SMS?

RCS chat with its advanced capabilities has already started competing with traditional SMS marketing. Most businesses would want to have a first-mover advantage and combine both SMS and RCS in their strategies.

But how is RCS different from SMS and do these differences tilt in favor of the former? Let’s have a comparison of the two.

Comparison: SMS vs RCS


SMS

RCS

Which app to use?

No new app needed. Can be sent from the default messaging app on your mobile device. 

No new app needed. Can be sent from the default messaging app on your Android mobile device. 

Reach

All mobile phone users

More than 1 billion monthly active Android users.

How does it work?

Messages are sent over a cellular network. No internet connection is required.

Requires an internet connection like your mobile data or WiFi. In the absence of an internet connection, the RCS text messages will be sent as an SMS.

The number of characters in a text

Up to 160 characters in a single message

No strict character limit

Media capabilities

No visual media like images or video attachments can be sent 

Supports high-resolution media sharing such as photos and videos

Added features

Can only send text messages.

Send emojis, GIFs, and Stickers. Offers interactive and quick reply buttons, group chats, and real-time typing indicators.

Cost

Depends on your network provider and your plan

For personal use, depends on internet usage. For business use, varies with the service provider.

As the table indicates, RCS takes the win for the majority of points mentioned. It does not require Android users to install a new application, has a much higher text character limit for each message, and provides a richer user interface through media attachments, emojis, GIFs, stickers, interactive and quick reply buttons, group chats, and real-time typing indicators.

The disadvantage of RCS messaging is that it is limited to Android users and its market penetration is lesser than that of traditional SMS. As it requires both the sender and the receiver to have an internet connection and a device that supports RCS, SMS will always remain as a backup plan for the market segment that normally does not have WiFi or mobile data available as well as non-Android users.

RCS chat settings for Androd users
RCS chats can be enabled for Android users. They are sent as SMS/MMS when the user is offline.

Moreover, even in this day and age, not everybody prefers a smartphone, such as those who work in high-risk environments or just prefer the old-school way of living.

Will RCS replace WhatsApp?

You would be correct to notice that many features that make RCS stand apart from SMS are already provided by WhatsApp.

Comparison: WhatsApp vs RCS


WhatsApp

RCS

Owned by

A messaging app owned by Meta Platforms, Inc.

An advanced messaging protocol and a proprietary standard owned by the GSMA.

Which app to use?

Users have to download this application from the Play Store for Android and the App Store for iOS. They then need to sign up and create an account.

No new app needed. Can be sent from the default messaging app on your Android mobile device. It is eventually integrated into existing apps like Google Messages.

How does it work?

Requires an internet connection like your mobile data or WiFi. In the absence of an internet connection, messages will not be delivered.

Requires an internet connection like your mobile data or WiFi. In the absence of an internet connection, the RCS text messages will be sent as an SMS.

Level of encryption

End-to-end encryption

When messaging someone with RCS chats turned on in Google Messages, the conversations automatically upgrade to end-to-end encryption

Additional security

Fingerprint lock and disappearing messages

No additional security

Do you need internet?

Requires the internet

Works as normal SMS or MMS without an internet connection.

Group Chat, audio, and video call

Available

Available

Media capabilities

Supports high-resolution media sharing such as photos and videos

Supports high-resolution media sharing such as photos and videos (up to 105 MB)

You can also star messages and pin conversations on RCS chats. Users can pin up to three conversations, however this ability is not yet available in India.

As seen in the table, WhatsApp and RCS chats share many similarities like being able to share high-resolution files, audio, videos, and images, making audio and a video call, creating groups within contacts, enabling or disabling read receipts, having real-time typing indicators and much more.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a WhatsApp chat screen and an RCS chat screen.

A comparison of WhatsApp and RCS chat screens
A WhatsApp and an RCS Chat screen

The difference between WhatsApp and RCS chats lies in the level of encryption each provides.

Furthermore, WhatsApp messages will not be delivered without an internet connection, but RCS messages can be sent as a plain SMS/MMS over a cellular network in case the device has no internet connection.

In RCS chats, you can delete the entire conversation with someone. This cannot be undone. Unlike WhatsApp, RCS chats have not provided a delete for me or delete for everyone feature yet.

Is RCS Chat Free?

Since RCS chats are sent over the internet, they are free as long as you are using a WiFi network that you do not pay for. If the messages are sent using your mobile data, then the amount spent varies with your mobile data plan. This is for individual use.

In the case of businesses that plan to use RCS chats in bulk for different campaigns, the service providers decide the cost.

Key Takeaways

RCS chats are relatively new to the scene of the messaging app market. However, they are rapidly gaining traction with their advanced user experience.

They take the best of both SMS and WhatsApp messages and give Android users a medium to communicate with or without the internet.

RCS messages tick all the boxes to can act as another successful marketing channel for businesses. Are you ready to make the most of it?


FAQs

Are RCS messages encrypted?

When messaging someone with RCS chats turned on in Google Messages, the conversations automatically upgrade to end-to-end encryption.

Will RCS replace SMS?

RCS chat has already started competing with traditional SMS marketing. Most businesses would want to have a first-mover advantage and combine both SMS and RCS in their strategies.

Can RCS be sent over Wi-Fi?

Yes, RCS messages can be sent over any internet connection, Wi-Fi, or cellular data.

Who owns RCS?

RCS chats are a proprietary standard owned by the GSMA.

Can RCS messages be deleted?

You can delete the entire conversation with someone. This cannot be undone. Unlike WhatsApp, it does not come with a delete for me or delete for everyone feature yet.