Rich Communication Services, or RCS for short, is the successor to SMS, the protocol used by most carriers for text messages. Unlike SMS, RCS supports advanced messaging features like group chat management, higher quality file sharing, read receipts, typing indicators, and end-to-end encryption. RCS has to be supported by the carrier’s network, the phone, and the phone’s messaging app, and to nobody’s surprise, carriers are lagging behind in adopting the new technology. Frustrated by the slow adoption by carriers, Google baked its own RCS service into the Google Messages app and has been pushing carriers to make it the default messaging service on Android phones. Today, AT&T has announced that all Android phones on the network will use Google Messages for SMS and RCS.
The news was first shared by The Verge earlier today and confirmed on the Google Cloud blog, and it follows after T-Mobile made a similar announcement back in March. The announcement means that Android phones on AT&T will come with the Google Messages app by default for texting via SMS and RCS. AT&T has its own implementation of the RCS Universal Profile 1.0 called Advanced Messaging, but only a handful of Android devices — and not a single iPhone — support it. Furthermore, AT&T’s implementation isn’t interoperable with other carriers, meaning customers with a phone that supports Advanced Messaging can only message other customers who have phones with support. RCS in Google Messages, on the other hand, works on all Android devices and doesn’t depend on the carrier since Google is handling the backend.
RCS in Google Messages can be enabled by downloading the app and turning on “Chat features” in Settings. If your device is supported, the app will also prompt you to turn on Chat features. Currently, Google hasn’t opened up an API so third-party messaging apps can implement RCS support, so you’ll have to use the Google Messages app for now.
Verizon is now the only carrier in the U.S. to not use Google Messages for SMS and RCS. Once they do, Android users in the U.S. will finally have a proper rival to Apple’s iMessage baked into their phone. (Apple has yet to adopt RCS support in iOS, and it’s unlikely they’ll do so given how important iMessage is in keeping users in the walled garden.) Adopting RCS will also better protect users’ text messages from being read by carriers as users can turn on end-to-end encryption for each conversation.