Back in the 1990s when cell phone usage grew by leaps and bounds people discovered the joys (and limitations) of texting. Normal SMS today is still limited to 160 characters as it was when cell phones became operational. You were limited to plain alpha-numeric characters and you did not have a read receipt. Then came iOS and Android and innumerable apps that bypassed the limitations of SMS but an operator run messaging system seemed to be nowhere on the horizon. iOS did introduce its iMessage and Android played catch up. Today, it seems Google will bring about better and richer communication system between operators and the mobile phone. It is their Rich Communication Services or RCS, higher up the SMS evolutionary ladder. Perhaps it will replace SMS. Maybe it will not. In any case, it brings along with it richer communication by way of interactive messaging, high resolution images and videos. RCS messages do not suffer from the 160 character limit. Should it gain traction you will no longer need to resort to apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. RCS will be the carrier implemented interactive communication services for the future.
What exactly is Rich Communication Services?
- Unlike communication and messenger apps, Rich Communication Services will be carrier implemented and will rely on direct connection with the SIM and link with your phone number using SIP/HTTP based system over the internet.
- You will be able to interact rather than send/receive messages, phone calls, video calls and also transfer messages. RCS will let you know if the party at the other end is typing and if the message has been received or not.
- You are not limited to 160 characters and you do not need GSM connectivity; RCS can be sent through mobile data/Wi-Fi networks using the internet.
- You can fill out forms and complete transactions – no need to visit a website.
- RCS has sender verification feature to ensure authenticity. The message carries sender information.
Rich communication services are making headway and should soon become widespread. This service is available with four major US telecom carriers and it is also available in 70 countries through 100 networks.
RCS is nothing new. IT was developed in 2007 and handled by the GSM Association in 2008 but it languished in the background. Finally, in 2016, things started moving as the GSMA agreed to accept a universal profile or set of standards for all phone manufacturers and operators as well as software providers to enable implementation on all devices. Understandably, mobile operators are not too keen on adopting RCS as it would mean dropping the revenue rich SMS/MMS stream. In 2019 Google sort of put its foot down and pushed the accelerator by providing RCS support on Android devices and deploying Google servers instead of trusting mobile carriers to adopt RCS. It was a wake up call. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile agreed on a cross-carrier solution for RCS through the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI). It has now reached a stage of being available across the world. However Rich Communication Services are not without security flaws.
Security flaws of RCS
SRLabs, a German security consultancy firm, presented information about Rich Communication Services vulnerabilities at several security conferences in 2019. Hackers can track and impersonate users. DoS attacks can block services. Text messages can be intercepted. However, it depends on how carriers implement security. Hackers commonly buy a couple of SIM cards from several carriers and detect the RCS related internet address after which they can tunnel into the identity verification process to access user accounts and then launch attacks such as Man in the Middle, change Domain Name System the phone uses to find RCS servers and present fake TLS certificates. Carriers can implement measures such as rate limiting, SIM card authentication and validating SIP requests among others. Despite these vulnerabilities, RCS is on its way to becoming universally accepted for business purposes. Google’s Android Messages app uses RCS and it does have inherent security. End to end encryption is included in Google Messages which launched a beta version in November 2020. Google is also working with Samsung to bring about integration between Android Messages and Samsung Messages. Still, if interoperability is lacking, RCS will appear as text on recipient’s device but this should be ironed over in the coming years.
RCS does use data to send messages and such messages are client-server encrypted which prevents spam. Senders must undergo brand verification process to send RCS and messages must display sender company name.
For the present, if you wish to use Google Messages app then you can download it from Playstore and make it the default messaging app. Your business communication will improve but the big IF is that you must be on Android because Apple is yet to officially support RCS.
RCS benefits for business
Switch to RCS, even though it is in its infancy, and you will enjoy several benefits.
File size limit increases from kilobytes to megabytes which means you can send images, video, PDF documents and anything else. This leads to better user experience and engagement.
You can have interactive instead of one-way messaging and switch from text to audio to video. You do not need to switch apps and create profiles for each. Plus, each time the message goes out, it is verified and branded. Your brand image improves. You also get read receipts leading to better analytics.
It is possible to fill out forms and complete transactions through this new communication service rather than log on to websites that take a long time to load. Fast completion leads to user satisfaction and also saves your time. Common applications are booking appointments, making payments, package delivery notifications and promotions.
Developers of communication services can implement Rich Communication Services to include chatbots and even artificial intelligence.
RCS can be implemented through APIs into your apps and websites and enables customers to reach you directly instead of navigating different apps and tools.
You can send out group messages and cross platform messages using Wi-Fi or cell networks.
Given all these advantages it is time now to give serious thought to Rich Communication Services and to implement it across the spectrum of your deployments such as websites and apps as well as stand alone communication services. You and your customers benefit.