RCS vs WhatsApp – which is better for business messaging?

We compare RCS Business Messaging with WhatsApp Business Platform in terms of features, price, security, and all the other factors that need to be considered when selecting a channel for exploring a more conversational style of business interaction.

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Dave Hitchins

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Even before Apple announced that it would start supporting RCS on its devices towards the end 2024, there has been a significant increase in the use of RCS by businesses in many regions.


Our recently published messaging trends report shows this with an overall 358% increase in RCS traffic on our platform.

High growth countries for RCS on our platform (2022 v 2023)

23x

more RCS messages in the United Kingdom

16x

more RCS messages in Brazil

185%

increase in RCS messages in Poland

And this trend is here to stay, with a 7x increase in RCS traffic globally in the beginning of 2024 versus 2023.


With a comparable set of user features and with a similar potential audience (once RCS is supported on Apple devices), many brands will be evaluating which channel they should concentrate on for their marketing, support, and transactional messages.

In this article we compare RCS with WhatsApp in terms of features, reach, security, and all the other factors that need to be considered when selecting a channel to explore a more conversational style of B2C interaction.

WhatsApp

RCS

WhatsApp vs RCS – the basics

WhatsApp – the industry leader

As we all know, WhatsApp is a messaging app owned by Meta that is the most widely used worldwide.


To use WhatsApp a person needs to download the app, create an account, and then sign in. They can then communicate using messages, voice, or video calls with anyone else that also has the app.

Brands that want to use WhatsApp to communicate with customers who have opted in to receiving messages from them must use either the WhatsApp Business App or the WhatsApp Business platform (click here for an overview of the differences).

Finally, all WhatsApp communication is end-to-end encrypted, with no exceptions. This applies to both P2P and A2P traffic, making WhatsApp a very secure channel for private communication. This is a key consideration as while RCS messages are also encrypted in most cases, there are some scenarios where they are not. We will dig into this a little deeper later on.

RCS – the rising star

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is a messaging protocol supported by Google which is aimed at introducing more advanced features like rich media and suggested actions, without the need to download additional apps. In other words, a recipient would receive RCS messages in the same inbox as SMS and MMS messages. Along with that, RCS is also a telco native channel.

RCS is currently only supported on Android 5.0 phones and above, although Apple will start supporting it with the release of iOS 18, planned for September or October 2024.


For interactions between two Android device users who have RCS messaging enabled on their phones, messages are delivered over the internet using the mobile data network or Wi-Fi. However, if someone using RCS sends messages to a person using iMessage on an iPhone, or another non-supported device, then the message will be delivered as an SMS or MMS. If SMS, then any rich media included with the message would be discarded.


RCS Business Messaging (RBM) is the version of RCS that is used by businesses to communicate with consumers i.e. A2P traffic. RBM includes features not available to ordinary users, for example predefined quick-reply suggestions, image carousels, and verified sender branding useful for reducing fraud.

To read more on the difference between RCS and RCS Business Messaging, read our guide.

With RCS you can now light up recipients’ default messaging inbox with rich media and branded messages, thereby increasing open rates.

User perception of WhatsApp vs RCS

As a single app developed by Meta, WhatsApp has a consistent feature set and overall user experience which is easily recognizable to its meany users.

On the other hand, a lot of people use RCS already without realizing it. If you’ve bought an Android phone lately, you would have RCS chat turned on by default. And the message will arrive in the same inbox as a SMS or MMS.

In terms of users’ perception then, WhatsApp has the advantage of being an instantly recognizable and understood messaging channel, while RCS often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.  However, as awareness of the channel grows and adoption increases, RCS should close the gap and may become equally recognizable.

Comparing WhatsApp and RCS for business messaging use cases

For a more detailed comparison of RCS and WhatsApp we will look at the key elements required for effective marketing, transactional, and support interactions.

1. Features

As we have previously said, RCS includes many of the features that WhatsApp users love. The ability to send images and videos, read receipts, ‘user is typing’ notifications, and group chats are available in both apps.

For business users, WhatsApp has the edge with unique features specifically designed for brands looking to create more interesting and interactive experiences for their customers. This includes WhatsApp Flows, interactive buttons, and message templates.

A key advantage of RCS is the option for branded and verified senders, which help to make messages stand out from the SMS and MMS messages that they share an inbox with. Brands that use this option and also include quick-reply buttons and suggested actions ensure that their messages are as engaging as possible.

Summary

RCS and WhatsApp both offer a wealth of features that enhance user experience. WhatsApp, with its longer pedigree in business messaging, provides a broader spectrum of tools designed specifically for business users. However, both channels provide robust solutions for enhancing user engagement and communication. 

2. Adoption

WhatsApp is the most widely used messaging app in the world, but it hasn’t got the same levels of penetration across all regions. For example, according to Statista while rates are over 97% in Brazil, India, and Italy, they are as low as 33% in countries like Sweden and Australia.


Using WhatsApp requires a person to download the app and register it on their phone. On the other hand, RCS can be received on all Android devices with no app download required. And when Apple starts supporting RCS on iPhones later this year it will be able to reach almost all mobile phones globally.

Summary
Currently WhatsApp has the advantage in terms of total active users, but the gap will close considerably when Apple starts supporting RCS, and all smart phones will be able to receive messages with no app download required.

3. Security

Both WhatsApp Business Platform and RCS Business Messaging offer robust features to keep customer interactions confidential.

WhatsApp Business Platform: WhatsApp is known for its end-to-end encryption. This ensures that only the intended recipient can read the messages, providing top-level security for all communications.

RCS Business Messaging: RCS utilizes a layered security approach. Messages are encrypted in transit using industry standards. This ensures messages are kept safe when being sent from your business via Google to your customers. Before sending, businesses need to register and verify their account with Google and the telecom provider. By adhering to strict telecom regulations, TCS is a reliable choice for industries like banking. In some cases, carriers may also implement additional security measures on their networks.

Summary
Both WhatsApp and RCS Business Messaging offer strong security for customer communications. WhatsApp provides complete end-to-end encryption, ensuring total message confidentiality and RCS uses a process that verifies the sender and meets Google and telecom regulations.

4. Payments

Payments are available in WhatsApp but currently only in India and Brazil, and partly in Singapore. Presumably this will be rolled out to other territories, but Meta has not set a date for this.

From their payments FAQ website: “We’re working to bring the payments feature to other countries. Check back to see new availability.”

We have been checking in regularly and so far, no change.

In RCS payments can be supported globally by integrating with Google Wallet, or another payment gateway provider.

Summary
WhatsApp offers full in-app payments in Brazil and India. For all other regions there would need to be an integration with a payment gateway. For RCS, payments can be supported globally with a Google Wallet integration.

5. Chatbot support

The use of chatbots on WhatsApp has exploded in recent years. No-code chatbot building tools like our own chatbot building platform make it easy for anyone to build a sophisticated chatbot for channels including WhatsApp, Messenger, and Viber.


Chatbots are also available on RCS and the technology is advancing quickly. However, unlike WhatsApp where interactions must be customer-initiated, over RCS the messages can be business initiated for opted-in users. Once a business initiates the message, customers can engage with a chatbot. However, RCS is evolving into a person-to-application (P2A) channel as well, with a wider array of entry points. Stay tuned for updates on this development.

Summary
Although support for chatbots on RCS is evolving quickly, WhatsApp has a head start and offers multiple options for incorporating both simple rule-based chatbots to advanced conversational bots driven by GenAI. While both channels offer customer support, WhatsApp currently offers multiple entry points while RCS does not. If customer support is your primary concern, it may be more advantageous to use WhatsApp until RCS evolves to include entry points. 

6. Suitability for conversational messaging

Both WhatsApp and RCS are ideally suited to two-way conversational use cases. By opting in to receiving messages from a brand, people are showing their willingness to engage. We have helped many businesses to create closer and mutually beneficial relationships with the people they deal with by enabling conversations on WhatsApp and RCS.

Just two examples include:

Summary
Both WhatsApp and RCS are ideally suited to conversational messaging. Two-way interactions enhanced with rich media, image carousels, and interactive buttons are possible on both channels.

7. Cost

The cost varies by provider, location, and country, but typically, RCS messaging could be more cost effective than WhatsApp.

In conclusion

Both WhatsApp and RCS are extremely effective channels for business communication, and especially for conversational interactions. They are closely matched when it comes to the features available to users, although WhatsApp has a more mature set of tools for business users, and its chatbot support is marginally ahead of RCS. When it comes to potential reach, RCS will enjoy a significant boost once Apple starts to support it.

However, the choice of whether to use RCS or WhatsApp as your main communication channel shouldn’t be necessary as you can easily incorporate both into your communication strategy to work side-by-side. You can then choose the ideal channel for each use case taking into account the region, customer preferences, and cost.

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May 22nd, 2024
8 min read