Skip to content

SMS Marketing Simplified

Search Blog

RCS Messages vs. SMS: What You Need to Know

RCS Messages vs SMS: What You Need to Know

While SMS (short message service) has dominated the world of texting for nearly 20 years, new formats like RCS (rich communication services) have gained quite a foothold for many smartphone users. But what’s the difference between an RCS message vs. SMS message? 

Put simply, RCS is a more advanced version of SMS. But if you’re trying to leverage text messaging for business (for marketing, customer service and other functions), it’s important to choose the format that works best for your goals. 

In this guide, we’re breaking down the RCS vs. SMS message debate for brands looking to connect with smartphone users to help you decide which format is best for your business texting strategy.

Understanding RCS Messages and SMS

Let’s begin by defining RCS and SMS and breaking down each format’s role in the texting space.

SMS (Short Message Service)

Short message service (SMS) is the original message format that defined text messaging. While the first text message was sent in 1992 via SMS, texting took hold in the mid-2000s as cell phones became more ubiquitous. 

And, while alternative messaging formats like Apple’s iMessage began to gain traction in the early 2010s, SMS remains a dominant texting format across smartphone brands and operating systems in the US. 

The SMS format supports:

  1. Short messages
  2. Links

Other content like photos and GIFs are sent via multimedia messaging service (MMS)

While SMS is the foundation of mobile messaging, it has its limitations. The format doesn’t support multimedia content, but it’s still prevalent enough to be the widest-reaching format for text messaging.

RCS (Rich Communication Services) Messages

A newer alternative to SMS, rich communication services (RCS) messages support multimedia messaging and a wide variety of other functions, including:

  • Wi-Fi texting (as opposed to SMS messages, which are sent via a cellular network)
  • Read receipts
  • Typing notifications
  • GIFs, photos and videos
  • Suggested replies and actions
  • Message reactions
  • Rich cards

Rich cards are a particularly exciting technological development for text messaging. They’re multimedia messages that contain numerous RCS-supported elements, offering recipients an interactive, multi-functional message. If you wanted to showcase product options with pictures, include links to multiple listings and give recipients a clickable link in one message, for instance, a rich card could help you bring that message to life. 

But RCS isn’t as wide-reaching as SMS because it’s only available on Android devices. Reduced reach (compared to SMS) is one of RCS’s defining limitations in its current form.

Key Differences: Considerations and Trade-Offs

Let’s break down the RCS message vs. SMS message debate in more detail, exploring some ramifications for business texting applications.

Messaging Features

The two formats are quite different in terms of multimedia capabilities. While SMS only supports text content, RCS supports various formats and interactive elements. 

As a result, each format serves a different function in the texting space:

  • SMS messages are still the perfect vehicle for text-based content alone, including links. For simple, short messages, SMS is still more than serviceable.’
  • RCS messages also support text content, but they’re also a potential vehicle for multimedia communications like infographics, call-to-action buttons, interactive rich cards and suggested replies.

So, depending on how they want to leverage texting functions, businesses can choose either SMS or RCS to meet their campaign objectives.

Adoption and Reach

It’s difficult to compete with SMS’s wide reach:

  • Every smartphone on the market has SMS functionality.
  • Android and iOS have each launched their own SMS alternatives (RCS and iMessage, respectively), and these alternatives aren’t compatible across operating systems; Android messages can’t receive iMessages, for instance. So, SMS will remain relevant as long as users need to bridge the formatting gap between operating systems. 

There have been setbacks throughout the global rollout of RCS as an SMS upgrade:

  • Apple claims it will never adopt RCS for the iOS operating system.
  • Cellular carriers originally took charge of the rollout, but with no significant financial incentive for mass implementation, progress has been slow.
  • Google has been largely responsible for current RCS adoption levels, but adoption is mostly limited to Google device users and select Android users. 

The takeaway for businesses: while RCS and other formats may be more advanced, they’re not as wide-reaching as SMS.

Interactive Elements

RCS’s massive interactive potential is exciting for smartphone users and text message marketers alike. Rich cards alone offer massive potential for business texting applications, and brands can certainly leverage them to offer more interactive experiences to Android users. 

But for early adopters of business texting, SMS remains a highly viable format for simple and streamlined marketing messages, customer service interactions and text-to-pay functions. While it doesn’t offer the interactivity potential of RCS, SMS can be leveraged to produce powerful results for brands. 

Business Applications: Choosing the Right Platform

While businesses can certainly invest in both formats, brands looking to build a texting strategy for the first time may choose to focus on either SMS or RCS in the early stages. If you’d like to stick to just one format, consider:

  • Your audience – If you have data to support that a vast majority of your audience uses RCS, investing in this platform will likely produce positive results. However, if you’re unsure which platforms your client base uses to text, SMS is the safer option. If you choose to diversify your formatting (perhaps incorporating SMS, RCS and iMessage into your texting strategy), this could present an opportunity for segmentation and targeted messaging. 
  • Your use cases and goals – If you’re trying to provide an interactive experience for your recipients and make the most of today’s texting technologies, RCS is a strong choice. Tech-savvy retail brands, SaaS providers and other industries can leverage RCS’s multimedia features to provide a useful, engaging experience for users. But, if you’re focusing on simplicity in your business texting campaign (sending short messages and the occasional link), SMS offers all the functionality you need. 

Unlock Your Full Potential with Text Message Marketing from Texting Base

Today’s brands must evaluate RCS vs. SMS message functions, reach and roles to determine the format that’s best for their text message campaigns. And some brands may choose to invest in both. 

If you’re ready to start brand growth with texting, but aren’t sure where to start, partner with Texting Base. Our platform is user-friendly and multi-functional, and we help brands discover the full potential of SMS for business. 

Start your free trial and discover the growth opportunities with SMS marketing, customer service and more.