RCS vs SMS. Which is best for your use cases?

We take a close look at RCS, how brands can benefit from its unique features, and how it compares to SMS overall as a business messaging tool considering that it is only available on Android devices. We also look at use cases where businesses have been able to combine SMS and RCS effectively to provide a better and more cost-effective customer experience.

Senior Product Marketing Manager

Danijela Živković

Senior Product Marketing Manager

Ever since the first text message was sent 30 years ago, SMS has been the dominant messaging channel. Considering that over 5.32 billion people own mobile phones globally, and every handset can send and receive SMS by default, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With 16 million SMS messages sent every minute worldwide, and 60% of consumers reading texts within the first 5 minutes of receiving them, I’m sure you’d agree that replacing SMS with another messaging channel would be almost impossible.

There was speculation that the introduction of RCS would reverse this trend, but this has not happened – although there has been a definite shift in usage as businesses adapt their communication strategies to leverage the benefits of both channels.

In this blog we will explain the difference between SMS and RCS Business Messaging in terms of features, device support, and security. We’ll also cover some examples of companies who are effectively combining SMS and RCS to get the best from both channels.

What is RCS Business Messaging?

RCS stands for Rich Communication Services. It is an IP-based messaging service provided to Android mobile phone users through their operator networks. It’s used for both Person-to-Person (P2P) and Application-to-Person (A2P) communication.

In the context of A2P communication, it’s formally known as RCS Business Messaging (RBM), and can be used to deliver branded, 2-way and interactive mobile experiences for consumers.

Other notable features include multimedia message capability, suggested reply buttons, barcode delivery, click-through options, and carousel messages with multiple images. All this good stuff is included natively on consumers’ phones with no need to download an app, leading to a steady rise in RCS adoption.

What devices support RCS?

Unlike SMS which is available on every type of mobile device, the main drawback of RCS is that it is only available on Android phones and depends on individual telecom operators’ connectivity and data services. On Android it can be used through Google Messages which usually comes preinstalled on phones, and Samsung’s messaging app also supports RCS on their latest devices.

When an RCS message cannot be delivered, SMS can be configured as a fallback option to ensure that the message reaches the end-user.

Is RCS secure?

Messages sent between end-users and businesses are encrypted in transit between RBM agents and Google servers, as well as between telecom operators and users’ devices. Messages received on users’ devices are encrypted using any device-wide encryption that users have configured, and Google utilizes on-device security models to protect message data. In summary, RCS messages are just as secure as SMS when all available security features are applied by operators.

How many people use RCS?

According to a Mobilesquared report, as of June 2022 there are almost 3.6 billion active Android devices worldwide. Since Google rolled out RCS via its Google Messages app, powered by its Jibe Hub, its reach has grown rapidly by providing telecom operators with a simple connection to the global RCS network. Although overall growth has been significant over the past two years, some markets are stronger than others with the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, UK, France, Germany, Italy, India, and Japan all seeing a significant growth in users.

RCS vs SMS comparison table

SMS is still a powerful channel that brands use extensively due to its reach and device support. Nonetheless, SMS has some limitations that RCS successfully compensates for with its rich feature set. Check out the comparison of the two channels:

Supported on all mobile devices?No (Android only)Yes
Suggestions/Quick repliesYesNo
URL previewYesNo
Delivery/Seen reportsYesOnly delivered
Requires internet connection?YesNo
Character limit?NoYes

With these capabilities, it’s easy to see why more and more brands are moving from SMS to RCS when communicating with customers that have Android devices. This shift is highlighted by Mobilesquared data, which shows that there were 1.7 billion unique RCS users in June 2022, up 55.9% year-on-year, while SMS-only users were down 5% from June 2021 to June 2022.

RCS enables a rich communication experience

What are the unique benefits of RCS?

Because of its many features and app-like experience, businesses can benefit in multiple ways by including RCS messages in their communication strategy. Let’s have a look at some of the options that RCS offers for creating visually appealing, attention grabbing messages that can result in more clicks and a higher conversion rate:

  • Custom branding – RCS messages can deliver branded experiences by embedding RCS-enabled brand elements such as logo, brand name, and corporate colors on screen. Businesses can keep messages consistent with their brand, making it much easier to capture consumers’ attention in their message inbox.
  • Rich media cards – Including rich content such as images, GIFs, audio and video files, documents, and location information in offer messages is both visually appealing and increases the chances of recipients clicking through and the interaction resulting in a conversion.
  • Suggested replies and actions – Clickable buttons embedded within the rich media card or displayed separately make it simple for the user to respond to the message or open the link in a web browser, or inside an app. This increases message response rates by allowing consumers to respond with a single tap of a button embedded within the message. In this way, businesses can provide a more conversational experience for their customers.
  • Rich media carousels – Combining rich cards into a single interactive unit that consumers can swipe through increases CTRs and conversion rates. With quick and simple selection of the best offer by scrolling, swiping, and tapping, businesses can provide a chat-app experience in the messaging inbox without installing additional applications.
  • Uses the customer’s phone number – By requiring only the customers phone number, RCS Business Messaging allows businesses to leverage their existing customer data without the need for additional contact information. And when the RCS message cannot be delivered, SMS can be used as a fallback option.
  • Extended metrics – Tracking messaging performance such as open/seen rate, CTRs and interaction with the message. Detailed campaign metrics that help in the planning of future activities to improve conversion rates over time and optimize future communications.
  • Longer messages – RCS messages are not limited to 160 characters so instead of sending multiple messages with the associated costs, businesses can send one longer message to their customers.
  • Verified sender – According to the GSMA’s Universal Profile standard, all senders need to be registered and verified by the RCS service provider assuring authentication, fraud prevention and reliable communication for brands and their customers. Verification gives consumers trust in the messages they receive, which is essential for important content and increasing response rates.
RCS message example

Using RCS for two-factor authentication (2FA)

All the rich features of RCS that we have described above make it an excellent option for the sending of OTPs as part of a 2FA solution. Here are some of the advantages of using RCS for OTP delivery:

  1. Enhanced user experience: RCS supports rich media content such as images, videos, buttons, and carousels, allowing for a more engaging and interactive user experience. This can be particularly useful for delivering OTPs that require additional context or instructions.
  2. Improved security: RCS can provide end-to-end encryption, which ensures that the OTP is transmitted securely between the sender and recipient. This enhances the overall security of the OTP delivery process, reducing the risk of interception or unauthorized access.
  3. Delivery confirmation: With RCS, you can receive delivery and read receipts, allowing you to confirm whether the OTP has been successfully delivered and viewed by the recipient. This adds an extra layer of reliability to OTP delivery that you don’t always have with other channels.
  4. Ability to generate dynamic OTPs: RCS supports dynamic content generation, enabling the creation of dynamic OTPs that change with each message. This can enhance security by preventing OTP replay attacks, where intercepted OTPs are reused by attackers.
  5. Branding and customization: RCS allows businesses to customize the appearance and branding of their messages, including logos, colors, and fonts. This helps in establishing brand consistency and recognition, reinforcing the legitimacy of the OTP message and reducing the chances of phishing or other fraud attempts.
  6. Integration with other features: RCS can integrate with other native phone features, such as contact lists, calendars, and location services. This allows for additional functionality, such as automatically populating OTP fields or providing contextual information based on the user’s location.

Examples: How brands are using RCS effectively

Now that we have considered all of the features that make RCS such an advanced channel, you may be thinking how you can use it to drive engagement for your own business.

We have a wealth of experience working with customers to get the best from both RCS and SMS and have helped lots of brands to evolve their use cases to achieve significant and measurable results.

The key is to define the right use case for each that will deliver desirable results and positive ROI. For promotional messages we have seen significant gains for businesses shifting from SMS to RCS Business Messaging. Just a couple of examples include:

Club Comex – x10 increase in click-through rate

A great example is Club Comex, the loyalty program of one of the largest paint manufacturers and distributors in Mexico. They are RCS pioneers, having used SMS messaging campaigns to deliver offers and information directly to their members over the years. Club Comex’s customers were more engaged with the rich interactive content they received via RBM. The campaigns included images, videos, and buttons, resulting in a ten-fold increase in click-through and a 115% increase in revenue over their previous SMS marketing campaigns.

Digitaleo – 17 times more engagement

The potential of RCS to engage the audience and bring more interactions in the customers’ communication is also recognized by the marketing platform companies that work with clients who are looking for new ways to reach their customers. Digitaleo collaborated with Infobip to run a Black Friday campaign in France for their customer Bodemor Auto, using RCS Business Messaging to showcase new deals. The outcome was 17 times more engagement with the RCS campaign than SMS.

What is the role of telecom operators in RCS adoption?

There is no RCS without a network connection. Aside from that, telecom operators account for a massive chunk of channel adoption. They should lead by example to show other businesses the benefits of incorporating RCS in their communication efforts. Also it is a good opportunity for them to recover revenue lost to ‘other’ OTTs once RCS is popularized. One of the ways to drive the adoption is to use the channel for campaigns aligned with their marketing strategy.

Recently we surveyed 3,000 telecom users worldwide to get insights into their expectations and satisfaction with the service they receive from their operators. The findings are presented in our eBook, but for the purposes of this article we’ll highlight a particularly interesting finding.

When it comes to receiving promotional messaging, Email is still popular among customers of all age groups, and is followed by SMS. Social media is increasing in popularity among the 18-29 and 30-39 age groups with 27% and 26% asking for it respectively. That increase opens up space to take SMS to the next level with other channels that offer richer communication experiences. RCS Business messaging is definitely one that can be a core component of future B2C communication strategies.

The best channels by age group.

One of the telecoms that is well aware of their customers’ preferences is Telekom Deutschland, a world-leading integrated telecommunication company, who knew they needed a more advanced digital channel than SMS to promote a Spotify Premium offer to their subscribers. They sent two RCS campaigns to their customer base and compared to SMS, it performed 2x better – leading to customers engaging with the chatbot and subscribing to Spotify. They measured the campaign’s success in two ways: it increased the conversation rate, which they couldn’t achieve with cross-sell and up-sell SMS campaigns, and it demonstrated all of the channel’s rich capabilities.

What is the future of RCS?

No crystal ball can predict the future of RCS, but according to the latest market reports, RCS market size is projected to grow from USD 5.2 billion in 2020 to USD 11.7 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 17.6% during the same period. This projection is very encouraging and signals that RCS will shine even brighter in the future, owing to the fantastic results we see our customers achieve by combining RCS and SMS.

One of the most common reasons that businesses are increasingly using RCS is that it allows them to enrich their messaging use cases with the interactive capability that it provides. That doesn’t mean that it will replace SMS but rather it can be used to cover additional use cases that SMS is not suited to.

We can help you to incorporate RCS into your communication strategy to drive demonstrable business results.

Create a memorable brand experience with RCS Business Messaging

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Sep 21st, 2023
9 min read
Senior Product Marketing Manager

Danijela Živković

Senior Product Marketing Manager