Credit by Peter Newman
Google has been working for years to fully roll out the Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging standard to devices across its far-flung Android ecosystem, but its efforts have been stymied by telecom politics and reluctance toward change that has left the messaging ecosystem fragmented.
To bypass this reluctance and roll out RCS to consumers' phones faster, Google is allowing users to opt in to RCS rather than waiting for network operators to support it first, according to The Verge.
Here's what Google's doing:
Instead of working with carriers as they roll out network-wide support for RCS, Google is implementing a peer-to-peer (P2P) RCS model to allow consumers to use RCS with others who've also opted in to the new service.
RCS is a replacement for standard SMS and MMS messaging formats that enables users and businesses to send more content types in interactive formats. Starting in France and the UK, Android users will be able to opt in to "RCS Chat" via a prompt in the Android Messages app — the current default app for SMS messaging in the default version of the Android operating system.
When a user is messaging with someone, Messages will check whether both parties have enabled RCS. If they have, it will display a message that RCS Chat is available. Once they opt in, the users will be able to take advantage of the fuller features of the service, compared to the more limited messaging available through SMS or MMS. Users can opt in regardless of whether their wireless network operator has implemented RCS.
One shortcoming of the RCS standard is that it does not support end-to-end encryption. That means any security worries in consumers' minds won't be remedied by the shift to RCS. Google's RCS Chat will thus be at a disadvantage to competing chat apps that boast such encryption, including iMessage, WhatsApp, and soon Facebook Messenger.
The bigger picture:
Moving toward RCS and away from SMS and MMS before carriers are fully prepared to offer their own support for the rich messaging standard could help Google take advantage of the growing market for business-to-consumer (B2C) messaging.
By enabling support for RCS without involving wireless operators, Google can serve as the chief point of contact for companies looking to reach their customers through RCS messaging. For the search giant, the B2C market "is an area where there is an opportunity to provide a better experience" according to Sanaz Ahari, a Google product management director overseeing Android Messages. She continued to say that "given that [SMS] is monetized today, we know that as long as [RCS chat] creates value for businesses, then there is value to be created."
Businesses are expected to nearly sextuple how many mobile messages annually they send to consumers over the next five years, rising from around 4 billion in 2019 to around 23 billion by 2024, according to Business Insider Intelligence estimates.
If Google is able to establish relationships with companies looking to serve messages to Android users, they could capture part of a valuable revenue stream from telecoms, which could be difficult for network operators to regain even after they roll out full RCS support.
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