RCS vs. SMS: How They Differ and Which May Suit Your Business Better

Team MessageFlow
10 min
May 10, 2024

The very first SMS was sent in late 1992. The following year it became a feature introduced by Nokia and since then it spread like wildfire, with global adoption and current daily volumes of texts sent, according to various sources, going into billions - a true testament to the channel’s usefulness. 

Is SMS the ultimate texting format, though, or is there room for improvement? Rich Communication Services, widely considered as the next big thing in mobile messaging, are slowly but steadily gaining popularity, drawing both users and businesses in with a slew of interactive and engaging features. So, is RCS better than SMS? What benefits does it offer to brands? Will it replace SMS? Let’s find out.

A quick refresher on Short Message Service (SMS)

These days, there’s a lot to choose from in terms of mobile messaging but SMS remains a tried and trusted communication channel for many individuals and companies alike. 

💡 Its simplicity acts as both its strength but also somewhat of a limiting factor. On one hand, it’s clean and concise, allowing brands to get straight to the point with their message and not devote time and effort to sophisticated creations while remaining efficient. On the other, the texts we’re all so familiar with don’t allow for more complex interactions, which are particularly sought in the B2C context. 

Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) entered the stage about a decade after the first SMS message was sent to expand the capabilities of texting but on its own it has a tough time competing with many of the super popular modern OTT messaging apps offering way more extensive capabilities.

SMS holds a well-established spot in the market as the industry standard, allowing businesses to reliably reach anyone who’s within network coverage (and who opted in to receive the communication, of course).  

There is some interactivity involved in texts with the inclusion of clickable links (learn more about short links in SMS) but the actions the recipient can take pretty much end there, plus, it’s never a chat-like conversation in a sense in which we understand live chats these days.

On top of that, considering there are certain physical limitations to how popular text messages can be, we may be getting to the point of market saturation, the complete channel maturity, where it’s no longer growing in any significant way, leaving you with not much room to expand into.

Does this mean SMS marketing is going extinct in the next couple of years? No, not really. Despite RCS having all the hallmarks of a new dominant technology, they haven't fully arrived just yet. Traditional texting may have some yet unspecified best-before date, with RCS eventually replacing it as the new multifaceted standard but currently we’re entering the stage of coexistence, which is a great time for early adoption and testing.

timeline of various communication channels

Brief introduction to Rich Communication Services (RCS)

RCS, created to be the next step in the evolution of SMS and MMS, is a messaging protocol developed by Google in collaboration with mobile carriers that creates a more interactive and engaging experience for its users. It enhances SMS with a number of other features to make it more like an OTT app.

💡 A major difference between RCS and those applications though is that the user doesn’t have to do anything extra to enable RCS messaging. All the recent smartphones can already send and receive RCS via the native messaging app like Google Messages, and all the new ones will follow suit.

Despite RCS support being currently available solely on Android devices, with Apple expected to join the party in late 2024 and also support RCS over its iMessage app, the users of the service are predicted to number 3.9 billion by 2025. That’s nearly half of the world’s population coming into reach of this innovative, engaging channel in the very near future already.

The benefits of using RCS for business

This emerging communication channel is intended to be used both at the P2P and A2P level, with the latter made possible via RCS Business Messaging, or RBM. The essential benefits of RCS include improved security, engagement, analytics, and messaging experience.

rcs advantages

Compared to SMS, RCS offers an all-around fuller and more secure messaging experience to Android users.

Should you use RCS or SMS for text message campaigns - a comparison of the channels

While SMS is a well-charted territory, RCS is a new business frontier, with many opportunities lying ahead. Although standard texting still has a wider reach, its advantages over Rich Communication Services essentially end there. As time goes by and the RCS adoption rate exceeds the soon-to-be 50% of the global population even further, SMS may start to be replaced by a new standard.

Here’s a comparison of SMS and RCS as they currently are, also including some nuances with regards to RBM.

  • 📑 Text formatting

    SMS only supports plain text, which is quite limiting. On the other hand, RCS allows for rich text formatting like bold and italic text, enhancing the user experience. RCS Business Messaging goes a step further by incorporating branding elements into the text formatting, which can be crucial for maintaining a corporate identity.

  • 🎬 Multimedia support

    SMS remains quite basic, limited only to attachments such as images and videos. RCS broadens this scope significantly by supporting a variety of multimedia content including images, videos, GIFs, audio files, and stickers. RCS Business Messaging enhances this further by enabling branded multimedia content, which is especially useful for marketing and customer engagement.

  • 👥 Group chats

    SMS provides basic group messaging functionalities. RCS introduces more advanced features like read receipts, presence indicators, and sophisticated group chat management tools. Then, RCS Business Messaging includes features such as chatbots and integrations with customer service systems, making it highly suitable for professional contexts.

  • Read receipts and delivery reports

    SMS does not support read receipts and offers only basic delivery reports. RCS makes both read receipts and advanced delivery reports with real-time updates available, enhancing communication reliability. RCS Business Messaging takes this to the next level with detailed analytics and insights, vital for business operations.

    sms mms rcs comparison
  • 🔄 Interactivity

    SMS offers very basic interactivity, such as conducting simple polls via linked SMS messages. RCS enhances user interaction with features like suggested replies, chatbots, and interactive buttons. RCS Business Messaging capitalizes on these features by integrating comprehensive services like automated responses, appointment scheduling, and expansive customer support options.

  • 📶 Network requirements

    SMS operates over traditional cellular networks, whereas both RCS and RCS Business Messaging require an IP connection, with a preference for mobile data or Wi-Fi to access the full spectrum of their features.

  • 🤝 Business integration

    SMS has limited capabilities, making it less ideal for complex business needs. RCS supports more extensive business integration, facilitating enhanced customer engagement and effective marketing campaigns. RCS Business Messaging is specifically designed for business-to-customer interactions, offering features like transactional messages and real-time order updates.

  • 🔒 Branding and security

    SMS offers limited branding and basic encryption for security. RCS provides options for businesses to maintain brand identity and includes enhanced security features like end-to-end encryption. RCS Business Messaging offers extensive branding capabilities and enhanced security protocols to protect transactions and customer data, ensuring both brand integrity and data safety.

Both RCS and SMS messaging allow you to send short text messages, however, the former has significantly more options for engaging conversations. SMS is still a very practical messaging channel, however, the advanced features of RCS allow you to send rich notifications in order to build a new kind of customer experience when compared to SMS or MMS.

Final word in the SMS vs. RCS message debate

Evolution of SMS is a reflection of changing user preferences and expectations. The improved rich messaging is also intended to equip businesses with new tools to keep customers engaged. 

The current standard in SMS, although still highly useful, isn’t set in stone. RCS is gaining ground, bringing significantly more exciting and innovative ways to communicate. What once had been a standard, may no longer cut it in 2024 and beyond. 

Is SMS or RCS better for my business is a question without a definitive answer, as the former has universal application, while the latter can prove to be particularly useful in industries where visuals, as well as more complex user actions like selecting certain options or completing transactions within the messaging app may be desired. 

💡 For instance, we’ve had positive feedback from trial runs with companies in the LendTech industry, where users have shown higher preference for the interactive RCS chat over the phone in contacts with the companies.

At the end of the day, it’s all about your actual needs. Your business may do just fine with the simple, tried and tested SMS message or you may want to engage customers in new ways, especially in your marketing communication. 

RCS vs. SMS: MessageFlow delivers both!

In order to decide whether RCS or SMS is better for your business, you need to ask yourself which of the channels will help me engage customers in a more meaningful way? Some of them may respond better to traditional SMS marketing, others may show greater engagement with RCS, despite being smaller in overall numbers.

Regardless of which avenue you’d like to use to reach your customers, MessageFlow has got you covered, allowing you to run cross-channel campaigns using both, perhaps testing RCS to see what kind of user response you will get.

If you’d like to inquire about enterprise RCS and SMS campaigns, talk to us. We’re working directly with mobile carriers in different countries to not only ensure a 99% message deliverability rate but also to develop and spread the use of RCS technology on Android phones and iPhones in the future, offering businesses unparalleled opportunities to reach clients within their phone's native messaging app.

Choose the perfect one-stop-shop for your omnichannel communication

Get a demo
Let's keep in touch!

Stay ahead of the curve with our newsletter, and be the first to know about the latest technological advancements and innovations!

Thank you for subscribing!

© 2024 messageflow.com | All rights reserved. | We use cookies.