Affiliate links on Android Authority may earn us a commission. Learn more.
RCS vs SMS: What's the difference?
Texting is a quintessential function of every modern smartphone, as the benefits of texting are plenty when compared to calling someone on their phone. Everyone can reply at their own pace, and there’s a conversation record for people to return to. All phones have texting capabilities through SMS, but these great Android smartphones also have additional texting capabilities through RCS. But what exactly is the difference between SMS and RCS? We explain this in this article!
SMS and RCS are communication protocols. While SMS relies on simplicity and ubiquity, RCS offers major feature upgrades in every other area. You are limited to short and plain texts in SMS, while RCS lets you send images, videos, GIFs, locations, and more. SMS works on the cellular telephony network (voice), while RCS works through the data network (cellular data or Wi-Fi).
JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS
What is SMS?
SMS stands for Short Message Service. As the name implies, it is a protocol that is used to send and receive short text messages. The messages are sent and received over your mobile network, and you don’t need a data plan for it to work. Your carrier may levy charges separately for every SMS you send, though receiving SMS is usually free.
SMS was meant to complement voice calls in the early days of mobile telephony. As such, the protocol has features that feel very dated in this era of instant messaging apps and addictive social media. For instance, SMS only allows for text-based messages, and that too with a 160-character limit. These 160 characters can be letters, numbers, and symbols, but that is about it.
You cannot exceed the character limit within one SMS. If you do, the characters spill over onto the next SMS, possibly fragmenting your conversation depending on the messaging app on your phone. This isn’t as much of an issue on modern smartphones, but something to keep in mind if you are resigned to sending or receiving texts on a basic feature phone.
You cannot send any media through SMS. So no photos, videos, audio, or GIFs can be sent through SMS, which is a big disadvantage, considering the depth these add to our everyday conversations. As a result, SMS is best known and used for simple and short text messages.
What is RCS?
It’s not an understatement that SMS has not been able to compete with modern-day IM apps. We’re at the point where texting is synonymous with instant messaging, and we’re not going back.
RCS is the evolution of SMS and MMS. It stands for Rich Communication Services, a communication protocol like SMS.
RCS differs from traditional SMS by vastly extending the character limit on each message. You can also add all types of media to your messages, letting you share images, videos, and GIFs. You can even send location data and create group chats. You can also receive read receipts, and your messages are also encrypted. This is made possible as RCS uses internet data to send content instead of the conventional telephony network.
However, while SMS is ubiquitous and available on practically every feature phone and smartphone, RCS has some conditions for its availability.
You don’t have to sign up for RCS like you do on instant messaging apps, but you still have to fulfill some requirements. You need a phone that supports RCS, and you need to be on a carrier that supports RCS. The other party must also meet the same conditions; only then will the conversation be through RCS. If the conditions are not fulfilled, the conversation will fall back to SMS.
SMS vs RCS: How do they compare?
Here’s a brief look at how SMS and RCS compare to each other.
Present on all feature phones and smartphones
Needs to be supported by smartphone and carrier
Requires mobile telephony network (cellular)
Requires internet connection (cellular or Wi-Fi)
Character limit per message
No practical character limit
Cannot send any media
Can send images, videos, GIFs, location
Can be encrypted depending on sending and receiving app
Delivery and read receipts
Only delivery receipts, no read receipts
Carriers frequently charge separately per SMS
Free of cost
No extra features
Group chats, typing indicator, message reactions
No extra features
Business branding, business verification, custom reply actions, rich information cards, QR codes
As you can see, RCS is better than SMS in nearly every area. The only advantage SMS has over RCS is that it is available on almost every mobile phone, whether a feature phone or a smartphone, Android or iPhone. RCS has wide availability as long as parameters are fulfilled on both sides.
One of the biggest hurdles to greater RCS adoption is that iPhones do not support RCS at all, forcing all text communication between an iPhone and an Android to be SMS-only. However, Apple has committed to support RCS on iPhones by late 2024 (most likely with the stable release of iOS 18) alongside iMessage, which should offer a better interoperability experience when compared to regular SMS.
What are the benefits of using RCS over SMS?
As we listed, RCS has numerous benefits over SMS. The primary benefit of RCS is that you get a seamless “instant messaging”-like experience right from your stock messaging app (if it supports RCS). You don’t need signups on any extra platform, vastly improving user onboarding.
Beyond that, RCS greatly expands how rich your communication can be. You can be more expressive with images and videos, share your location, and more.
This benefit is also great for businesses that want to use RCS for marketing. Instead of relying on boring and short text, they can use more creative advertising and promotional materials. The platform allows them to build direct call-to-actions, which is significantly better for conversion than plain text sent over SMS.
An underrated benefit of RCS is that popular RCS apps are encrypted end-to-end. Note that not all RCS apps are encrypted, but the feature is at least available on the popular apps. SMS is entirely unencrypted, leaving the door open for bad actors to snoop on your conversations.
Besides the small amount of data needed, RCS is also completely free for consumers. On the other hand, carriers usually charge for SMS based on individual messages or through combined packs that give you a monthly limit for a set amount of money. You can get “unlimited” SMS on carrier packs with other high benefits, but you’re still paying for a package.
Who can use RCS?
You need to be on a supported carrier and on a supported smartphone to use RCS.
Most major carriers around the world support the Universal Profile for RCS. These include Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Google Fi in the US. The list globally includes Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Docomo, Airtel, Jio, and many others supporting RCS.
For smartphones, all Android phones are capable of using RCS, but you need to use a compatible client. Google’s Messages app supports RCS and comes preinstalled on most new smartphones these days, and if not, you can always download it from the Google Play Store. Samsung Messages also supports RCS. Many other messaging clients also support RCS. You may need to enable the feature, so do follow our guide on how to enable RCS on your phone.
One big outlier in the above equation currently is the Apple iPhone.
iPhones do not support RCS, at least not officially, and not at the moment. Apple prefers its proprietary iMessage service for iPhone to iPhone text messaging. If an Android user attempts to send an RCS message to an iPhone, the message will fall back to SMS. This is the primary point of contention in the infamous “blue bubble vs green bubble” debate, as all iMessage chats are blue-colored, while all SMS chats are green-colored. Notably, a third-party app for iOS can now send and receive RCS messages. It’s something, at least.
The situation around iPhones and their RCS support will change in late 2024, as Apple has promised that it will add support for RCS Universal Profile. Universal Profile is the standard currently published by the GSM Association. RCS support will co-exist alongside iMessage and SMS support on the iPhone. Conversations between Android phones and iPhones will soon default to RCS instead of SMS (presuming the Android phone also supports the Universal Profile on RCS), though the blue and green bubble wars will continue to be waged on iMessage.
Should you use RCS or SMS?
Given the long list of benefits, it is a no-brainer that you should use RCS as far as possible. The features finally breathe new life into conventional texting, and once you get used to them, there’s no going back to just plain text.
The only times SMS makes sense are for its ubiquity and as a fallback for RCS. When you send an SMS, you can be confident that the person receives it without thinking too much about carriers, phones, and apps. For that reason alone, SMS will remain a part of our life, though relegated to a sideline as RCS and other instant messaging apps take over. That should settle the RCS vs SMS debate.
SMS stands for Short Message Service.
RCS stands for Rich Communication Services.
No. No iPhone officially supports RCS. Apple relies on its proprietary iMessage service as an alternative. There are third-party apps, like Beeper, that enable this functionality, though. Note that Apple has promised to add RCS support to iPhones in late 2024, so this situation will change once official support rolls out.