What Is RCS Messaging (And How to Get It)

Staff Writer
Updated

Updated 1/22/19: Added Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Note 8 to list of RCS Universal Profile-supported devices.

Rich communication services, better known as RCS, has been a very long time coming. When it finally reaches your device — as it likely will in 2019 — it will finally put conventional SMS out of its misery. But what exactly is RCS?

At its core, RCS — or more specifically, Chat, which is the Google-developed RCS Universal Profile built for interoperability between wireless networks — is merely another internet-based messaging system not unlike iMessage, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. The difference is that RCS Chat will eventually replace SMS and MMS, operating completely within your phone's standard texting app, while still granting luxuries like read receipts and live typing indicators.

However, there are a few downsides to RCS' rollout. For starters, it won't hit all users at the same time, and each user in a conversation needs to have a phone that supports the standard for it to work — otherwise, you'll automatically fall back to SMS. And because RCS is superseding texting, you won't be able to start taking advantage of it until your wireless carrier has activated the feature.

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Here's how and when RCS will be available on your particular carrier and phone:

Verizon

Right now, exactly two devices on Verizon's network support RCS Chat: Google's Pixel 3 and 3 XL. The functionality launched for both Google devices in early December, and is designed to automatically turn itself on after receiving a discreet, server-side update.

In the event that RCS is available to you but is not active on your Pixel 3, setting it up is simple. Just go to the Settings section of the stock Android Messages app, tap "Advanced," and then tap "Chat features." On the following screen, toggle on the first item, labeled "Enable chat features."

If the Chat features item is not visible on your device, that means you haven't received the ability to send and receive RCS messages yet, and you may have to wait before you get it.

For Verizon's many users that don't own Google's latest smartphone, the carrier announced back in November that it was working to bring RCS support to a variety of devices in early 2019.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile says it is committed to RCS Chat, and has extended support so far to Samsung's Galaxy S8, S8+, S8 Active, Note 8, Note 9, S7 and S7 Edge. RCS Chat compatibility is baked into the stock Samsung Messages app as well as Google's Android Messages — so as long as you use one of those apps for texting, you'll be good to go. There's no word on newer devices, but T-Mobile is expected to extend RCS Chat to more phones in 2019.

Interestingly, T-Mobile was actually one of the earliest carriers to support RCS, way back in 2015. Unfortunately, it wasn't the Google Chat, Universal Profile standard — so it only permitted communication between supported phones exclusively on the Uncarrier's network, or its prepaid Metro subsidiary. However, that's slowly changing, and from here on out, every one of T-Mobile's phones that supports RCS going forward should do so in a way that cooperates with the standard all networks are implementing.

AT&T

Like T-Mobile, AT&T delivered its own proprietary version of RCS with its Advanced Messaging system in 2015. And just like T-Mobile's solution, it doesn't play nice with the Universal Profile Google is shepherding. AT&T is slowly but surely moving to the new platform, though it hasn't identified specific devices with the feature yet. Hopefully, that will change in 2019.

Sprint

To Sprint's credit, the Now Network has actually been at the forefront of the RCS Chat rollout. All new Android phones on the carrier's network support RCS that is interoperable between all carriers, so long as you're using either Google's Android Messages app or the Samsung Messages app that comes pre-loaded on Galaxy devices.

Ideally, RCS should be enabled by default. If it isn't active on your device, check the Settings menu of either Android Messages or Samsung Messages, depending on which you use. Other third-party or device-specific texting apps are not yet supported.

U.S. Cellular

Much like Sprint, U.S. Cellular is built to run Universal Profile RCS Chat in its fullest capacity, on all Android phones that utilize the Android Messages app.

Google Fi

Google's wireless network combines T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Sprint into one, which may explain why it has taken the carrier run by the company that developed the prevailing RCS standard so long to get on board.

Thankfully, as of January 2019, it finally has, with Universal Profile RCS Chat rolling out to all devices optimized for Google Fi. That includes every Pixel device, as well as the Moto X4 Android One, Moto G6, LG V35 ThinQ and LG G7 ThinQ. At the time of this writing, Google says it may be several days to weeks before RCS arrives for all Fi customers.

Note that RCS support only extends to those aforementioned devices on the network that support the full range of Fi's features, like network switching and full access to Google's VPN. In other words, if you join Fi with an iPhone, Galaxy handset or other unlocked device, you won't have access to RCS at this time.

What about iPhones?

The biggest thorn in the side of RCS' widespread adoption is arguably Apple, whose iPhones don't have much of a need for RCS because its customers already have iMessage. Of course, iMessage only works between iPhones — and that exclusivity has made it a marquee feature in Cupertino's handsets.

However, Apple is reportedly turning the corner on enabling RCS. The GSMA consortium of mobile carriers has apparently begun talks with Apple to bring RCS Universal Profile to its products, according to a slide from a presentation that surfaced on Reddit in early January.

If Apple does ultimately support RCS, it will likely take the place of SMS within the iPhone's Messages app. At the very least, that means you won't have to wait quite as long sending and receiving messages with "green bubble" friends, and you'll be able to enjoy full resolution media as well. However, RCS will not employ end-to-end encryption as iMessage and many other internet-based communication platforms do.

And what about prepaid carriers and MVNOs?

Here's where things get murky, because RCS' adoption at the prepaid and MVNO level is largely dependent on the status of the network a particular carrier utilizes. For example, Boost Mobile, a network is owned and operated by Sprint, has begun to introduce RCS Universal Profile support. However, Cricket, a network owned and operated by AT&T, cannot accommodate it yet because AT&T doesn't yet, either. Ultimately, we recommend contacting your carrier to determine whether RCS is available to you if you subscribe to a network outside the Big Four.

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