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Big Four US carriers unite to deliver RCS messaging (Update: Ugh, it's an app)

The Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI) sounds like big talk rather than big action, but we'll see.

Published onOctober 25, 2019

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Update, October 25, 2019 (01:20 PM ET): In an interview with The Verge, Doug Garland, general manager for the CCMI, talked a bit about the new RCS messaging initiative from the Big Four carriers as discussed in the article below.

Unfortunately, it appears the goal of this collective is to release a messaging app. Yes, that’s right, another messaging app. This app would come pre-loaded on all Android devices sold through the four major wireless carriers in the United States.

Although Garland doesn’t specifically state as much in the interview, it’s reasonable to assume that RCS messaging features won’t work if you decide to use a different messaging app instead of this upcoming one.

Garland also would not commit to whether or not this app would feature end-to-end encryption.

Google also chimed in for the first time to make a statement on this CCMI collective. See that statement below:

We remain committed to working with the Android ecosystem to further enhance the messaging experience on Android with RCS. It’s great to see U.S. carriers getting behind RCS in a meaningful way and we look forward to continuing to work with them to bring modern messaging to everyone on Android.

So, in brief, it looks like there will be multiple ways for you to connect via RCS messaging but they likely all won’t work together. In other words, things are going to get even more complicated for RCS, rather than simpler. I don’t know why we should expect any different.

Original article, October 24, 2019 (05:36 PM ET): For years now, one of the biggest questions hanging over the future of Android is this: “When is RCS messaging coming to everyone?” It seems 2020 could be the big year, as the Big Four US carriers just announced a new initiative to make it happen together.

The so-called Big Four — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — just announced via a Verizon press release that they are joining forces to create the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI). This initiative’s goal is to bring standards-based Rich Communications Service (RCS) messaging to all Android customers on each of the four carriers by the end of 2020.

This initiative represents a major shift in tone for the carriers, which have been dragging their collective feet for years when it comes to RCS messaging. It’s possible Google’s own recent initiative — that bypasses the carriers entirely, putting Google in control — was the fire needed to get the carriers to actually do something.

However, the announcement is vague on one of the most important aspects of RCS messaging: privacy. The word “encryption” doesn’t appear anywhere in the release, but it does say that it will “enable an enhanced experience to privately send individual or group chats across carriers with high-quality pictures and videos.” I guess the word “privately” is a good sign?

Ultimately, this CCMI project sounds like a lot of big talk rather than big action. Just because all four carriers are joining forces and promise to bring RCS messaging to Android in 2020 doesn’t really mean much. It’s still just words which is what we’ve had from all of them for years.

Related: What is RCS messaging and why is it important?

Still, the four of them coming together for one goal is a rarity, so it’s possible this CCMI agreement could be the start of an actual widescale rollout of RCS messaging. We’ll need to wait and see.

In the meantime, if you want to experience RCS messaging on an Android device, you’ll need to use Google’s own Messages app and communicate with other Android users on the same platform while using specific devices in specific countries. Or, you can use specific Samsung devices on specific carriers. Either way, good luck meeting all the requirements.

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