Nearly half of phones will use RCS by 2026

Enabling RCS
(Image credit: Google)

The number of mobile phone users able to send and receive Rich Communication Service (RCS) messages is set to reach 1.2 billion by the end of 2022, strengthening the technology’s bid to become a successor to SMS.

The mobile messaging market is dominated by over-the-top (OTT) messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, handing significant control to big technology firms and bypassing mobile operators who are suffering from declining revenues.

One of the main benefits of these OTT services is that they offer free communication and rich media capabilities, such as image, video, and files transfers, while SMS has barely developed since its inception.

RCS adoption

RCS combines the universality of SMS with rich media capabilities and is supported by Google, device manufacturers, and mobile operators who believe the standard can seize back some of the market and help increase revenues – especially in the business market.

Compatible devices support RCS natively, for example in the Android Messages app, helping to drive adoption.

The only major blind spot is Apple, which has so far declined to support RCS in favour of pushing its own iMessage service. Nonetheless, Juniper Research predicts the number of mobile phone users who can access RCS will reach 3.8 billion by 2026 – accounting for 40% of all subscribers globally.

Analysts say that adoption is only part of the battle, however, and that operators must promote the greater reach of RCS to win over businesses who might struggle with the fragmented OTT landscape when trying to reach customers.

It says operators should offer businesses a simple price-per-message model similar to the one currently used for SMS, while also offering new tariffs for applications such as RCS chatbots that will require multiple messages to be sent. For example, operators could allow operators to send unlimited RCS messages within a certain time period.

Should the industry be successful, then RCS revenues could increase from $230 million in 2022 to $4.6 billion within four years.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.