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Happy Birthday to you, SMS! Now, about those crow’s feet…

The first Short Message Service (SMS) text was sent on December 3, 1992. The message read "Merry Christmas", not “mry xmas” as it would most likely be abbreviated now, 25 years later. Are abbreviations and emojis really all that has happened to the most widely used messaging capability since its birth? Pretty much. That’s about to change with the advent of Rich Communication Services (RCS). Consider it a much-needed facelift.

When Neil Papworth wished his associate Richard Jarvis “Merry Christmas” in the very first SMS text message in December 1992, he admits he had no idea how gigantic the texting phenomenon would become. Looking back on that humble beginning, Papworth recently opined:

“It’s pretty cool that texting, which was originally intended as kind of an upgrade to the pager, ended up giving people a universal method of communication that was convenient, quick, non-intrusive and could be sent at any time. And it’s even cooler that people all over the world still use it for exactly that every day because it doesn’t require a smartphone, a data plan or a WiFi hotspot.”

Universal, convenient, quick? Sure. But pretty cool? I don’t think the arbiters of what’s hip in our tech-driven culture would use that term to describe a capability that hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years. If Papworth’s message was sent today, it might be abbreviated “mry xmas” or even just as a Christmas tree Emoji; however, other than there now being a widely accepted set of character-saving acronyms and emojis, good old SMS is just that – good, but old. It’s time for a facelift.

It’s time for Rich Communication Services, better known as RCS.


What is RCS?

RCS is a protocol intended to succeed SMS, enabling a messaging platform that’s significantly more rich and capable. RCS users can share their location with each other or attach high-resolution pictures, videos and audio to messages. They can create and archive group chats or remove members from group chats. They can even enable Facebook Messenger-like read receipts and typing indicators that show exactly when someone has read a message.

The RCS standard also supports robust enterprise applications, allowing brands to securely deliver messages that digitally engage and transact with their customers in graphically rich conversations. Check out these screenshots from early RCS implementations:

Wait a minute, don’t those look a lot like mobile applications?

You’re right.


The search for the killer app is over…

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 ushered in the era of the mobile app and a tidal wave of enterprise investment in app development. A $40 billion tidal wave by some estimates, spent in search of a better way to attract, retain and inexpensively service increasingly more mobile customers.

Unfortunately, nearly one in four people abandon mobile apps after only one use. I know I do, either to save storage space or reduce clutter on my screen. Why would I keep an airline’s app on my phone if I only travel a couple times a year, and almost never on the same airline two times in a row?

But if I could get my check-in reminder, pick my seats from a map, get my boarding pass and my gate location through the text messaging app that came with my smartphone, why would I need to download the airline’s app in the first place?

That’s why I call RCS “the app killer”. It’s already enabled on most Android handsets shipping today, and carriers worldwide are adopting the standard. It won’t be long before you’ll be using it to interact with friends, family and brands.

So, happy birthday, SMS. I can’t wait to see the new you!

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Brian Moore

About Brian Moore

Brian Moore, senior principal, industry solutions of Nuance’s Enterprise division, brings more than 30 years of experience in financial services, mortgage and collections operations and technology to the company. He is also our resident compliance expert, advising companies on the TCPA, FDCPA, TSR and other regulations impacting customer engagement.