Goodbye SMS texting, hello RCS

The major US cell phone companies -- AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon -- have joined forces behind a replacement for today's texting standard: Rich Communication Services. Now, if only Apple were to get behind this move.

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For years, we've relied on short message service (SMS) for texting. It was a game-changer when it first appeared in 1992. But, over the years, we've become tired of its 160-character-length limit and its inability to work and play well over internet connections. So, Rich Communication Services (RCS) was proposed in 2007 as a bigger, better replacement. It didn't make much of a splash. 

But, with Google's backing, the big four US cell phone companies -- AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon -- have announced they'll start replacing SMS with the richer RCS in 2020.

Besides breaking the 160-character barrier, RCS messages will look a lot like instant messages (IM) we now send and receive on services such as Apple's iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. This includes group chats, video and audio messaging, high-resolution images, read receipts, and real-time indicators for when someone is replying to your message.

Google has other plans for RCS beyond advanced messaging. It sees businesses using it for automated travel and service updates. Google's may be on to something here: People would rather have companies text -- instead of calling -- them with alerts.

Google isn't the only one to foresee tomorrow's texting becoming more innovative. Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, said in a statement:

"CCMI will create the foundation for an innovative digital platform that not only connects consumers with friends and family, but also offers a seamless experience for consumers to connect with businesses in a compelling and trusted environment."

The one hole with this new universal texting platform is it doesn't support end-to-end encryption. If security and privacy are important to you, you'll want to stick to IM clients such as Signal.

The telephone companies are working on delivering this new standardized RCS via the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI). These services will first appear on Android-based phones in 2020. The iPhone? Apple has remained silent on whether it will support RCS or not.

Until this is resolved, we won't know if RCS will become the way for us to send text messages in the 2020s, or if it will become yet another interesting might-have-been protocol. Stay tuned, things are about to get interesting in texting.

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