Google has decided to deploy the Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol on its own after waiting for years for carriers in the US to do so instead. While SMS has been a phenomenally successful message protocol, it dates to the mid-1980s. RCS is intended to be a replacement, but its deployment has been minimal. While Google initially helped create the standard, it relied on the US wireless carriers to roll it out — and they haven’t been particularly interested.
Last month, the carriers announced that they would finally roll out RCS… only they weren’t going to use the actual version Google has worked on. Supposedly both Google’s RCS and the upcoming carrier RCS will both support a feature known as Universal Profile, which would allow both services to interoperate — but we won’t know if this will actually happen until the carrier service is deployed.
Google, therefore, is going to deploy its own version of the standard anyway. A Google spokesperson refused to comment on rumors that blackjack and hookers might be involved. What does it mean for Google to roll out these capabilities itself through Messages? The company states that it’s upgraded chat features over mobile and Wi-Fi data. Google writes:
When you and your friends message each other with these chat features, you can chat over Wi-Fi or mobile data, send and receive high-resolution photos and videos, and see if people have received your latest messages. Plus, you’ll get better group chats, with the ability to name groups, add and remove people to and from groups, and see if people haven’t seen the latest messages.
If these seem basic for chat functionality, remember, we’re talking about a replacement for SMS, which is an incredibly basic standard to start with. Upgrading the most basic communication protocol used for text messages is a step forward, even if other applications offer more advanced capabilities. RCS includes typing status, location sharing, longer messages, read receipts, and media support. But it doesn’t include end-to-end encryption, and it’s tied to your phone number as opposed to any other identity.
Google Messages isn’t the default messaging app on most Android devices, but if you download it and enable the Chat Features capability, you can experiment with the RCS protocol when messaging other Messages users.
It’s not clear exactly what the play is, here. RCS is a carrier-centric messaging service that Google is moving to deploy without carrier buy-in, while T-Mobile, ATT, Sprint, and Verizon go off and build their own RCS service that’s like the one Google built, but distinct from it. And while all of this is taking place, Google is still planning to kill Hangouts — easily its most-used chat service with the largest user-base.
In short, Google’s entire messaging strategy remains confused, its technology deployments are poorly coordinated, and we’d really like to just keep using Google Hangouts please, separate from any other decisions the company might make around messaging.
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