RCS vs SMS: The ultimate comparison guide

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. 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, it’s quite possible that replacing SMS with another messaging channel would be almost impossible. 

However, RCS Business Messaging has taken the spotlight over the last couple of years as a leading customer communication channel. With the reliability of SMS and the rich functionalities that enable users to send images, videos, files, and more.

The benefits of RCS as a business messaging channel have time and time again been revealed through the results of campaigns launched by brands around the world.

Let’s deep dive into the differences between SMS and RCS and which channel is ideal for which use case, so that your business can offer customers the best experiences across channels.   

What is RCS Business Messaging?

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

RCS messaging might also be referred to as:

  • RCS chat
  • RCS texting

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 is SMS?

SMS (short message service) is a messaging service available on all phones worldwide. It allows users to communicate with each other or with businesses using short text messages (160 characters) over a cellular network. SMS was developed in the 1980s and only allows for text exchanges – no rich media like emojis, images, videos, etc.

SMS is one of the most reliable ways to send messages because of its reach and availability on all mobile phones worldwide (that are connected to cellular data). That’s why businesses around the world use SMS as a staple channel in their communication strategy; to dependably reach customers anywhere.

What devices support RCS?

RCS is available on Android devices, and recently, Apple announced that they will enable the use of RCS on iOS in 2024, enabling rich messaging features between users of both platforms.

This has the potential to change the way businesses connect with customers, as person-to-person communication is likely to change between Android and iOS users.

Until now, Android and Apple users would have to use SMS or MMS to share messages and multimedia. RCS will allow for more seamless communication and better user experience when compared to SMS or MMS messaging for Apple and Android users as the platform continues to gain popularity and mature.

RCS will offer iMessage-type messaging features between Apple and Android users such as:  

  • Read receipts  
  • Typing indicators  
  • High-quality media (photos, videos, etc.) 

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 messages always reach 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’ mobile 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 April 2024, there are 5.77 billion business messaging users 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.

By 2028, Juniper Research predicts that there will be more than 2.2 billion RCS active subscribers globally.

RCS vs SMS and MMS

Thirty years ago, when the first text message was sent, it changed how we communicate. It doesn’t require an Internet connection (WiFi or mobile data), all you need is a cell signal, but it cannot send images, videos, GIFs, or other multimedia content. But SMS is reliable and excellent for sending notifications, reminders, and OTPs.  

MMS is considered the next generation of SMS. It allows sharing of multimedia documents, images, or videos and is often used to send coupons, discounts, and proof of delivery. 

RCS is the next evolution of these messaging channels provided through MNOs. It takes engagement to the next level with OTT features such as verified sender, custom branding, cards, carousels, group chats, suggested actions, and analytics.  

It is commonly used for sending automated notifications, interactive promotional campaigns and guiding customers through the onboarding process. 

Supported on Android and Apple devices?YesYesYes, in late 2024
Card/CarouselNoIn a sense. Can include multiple images in a slideshow format.Yes
Suggestions/Quick repliesNoNoYes
FilesNoLimited file supportYes
URL previewNoNoYes
Delivery/Seen reportsOnly deliveredYesYes
Requires Internet connection?NoYesYes
Character limitYesYesNo

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 1.4 billion unique RCS users in April 2024, up 36.4% year-on-year, while SMS-only users were down 8% from April 2023 to April 2024.



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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Real-world examples of brands using RCS

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.

Telecom Deutschland – 2x higher campaign results

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.

Tips to engage customers with RCS Business Messaging

With its many rich features and a reliable network, RCS is an ideal channel to create rich, engaging marketing campaigns. Below we’ve outlined ways you can use the channel to increase conversions, ROI, and engagement.

Automate with chatbots

One of the many benefits of RCS as a channel is that it enables businesses to launch chatbots that can communicate with customers.

From frequently asked questions to product suggestions, building an RCS chatbot can minimize workloads for your employees and boost response, satisfaction, and time-to-resolution metrics.

An important aspect, however, is to set up a solution that enables you to be present on the channel alongside your chatbot. This way, your employees can take over the conversation if a customer has in-depth questions the chatbot can’t answer.

Segment your customers

Although engaging new customers and prospects is a key component to long-term business success, we can’t forget about existing customers. Especially ones that might be on their way out the door.

You can use RCS to re-engage inactive customers or ones that are close to abandoning your brand.

Once you have a reliable provider with an in-depth solution, you can use the customer insights you have at hand to segment customers based on:

  • demographics
  • loyalty status
  • preferences

Use these segments to set up targeted, personalized campaigns that offer solutions to the customers’ pain points.

Find a reliable provider

Implementing RCS as a channel is a good first step – but to ensure a successful campaign, you need an experienced, reliable provider.

Oftentimes, business leaders have a good idea of what they want their campaign to achieve, how they want it to appear, and who they want to target. However, designing the messages, programming the channel, and running the campaign often requires someone with experience and knowledge of best practices.

Finding a provider with a reliable platform can help prevent downtime, undelivered messages, skewed metrics, and other instances that could cause a ripple effect of negative outcomes.

It’s also important to ensure the provider doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a flexible one that can be set up according to your business needs.

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 blog, 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 promotional channels by age group.

What is the future of RCS?

No crystal ball can predict the future of RCS, but according to market reports, RCS market size was 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 likely to be even higher now that RCS will be available to Apple users.  

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 in its entirety 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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Nov 17th, 2023
13 min read
Senior Product Marketing Manager

Danijela Živković

Senior Product Marketing Manager