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What is the difference between RCS and SMS?

SMS is being supplanted by RCS to let carriers compete against WhatsApp and Messenger and open new avenues to business messaging. Learn the difference between RCS and SMS.

When most people think of a typical text message, they're likely referring to the Short Message Service, or SMS, suite of protocols that have been part of cellular networks for decades. Messages of up to 160 characters can be sent and received between devices residing on or across mobile communications networks.

SMS does not use IP like other messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. These types of apps are known as over-the-top (OTT) platforms and use the mobile user's IP data plan to send and receive communications. SMS communications, on the other hand, are sent directly through the cellular network like voice calls. That's why messages sent and received using SMS don't count against mobile carrier data plans.

Examining the difference between RCS and SMS

Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is an evolutionary update to SMS. While MMS uses the same protocols and transport methods as SMS, it also can transmit and receive images, audio and video files. Additionally, MMS per-message payload caps are set much higher to accommodate the larger file sizes associated with photo, audio or video content.

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is the new kid on the block. Mobile carriers are shifting away from SMS and toward RCS to better compete with the popularity of OTT communications apps. The concept is simple: RCS can provide the same feature-rich communications features -- among them group chat, delivery of high-resolution photos or videos and location sharing -- found in the most popular IP-based communications services.

The key difference between RCS and SMS, however, is that RCS content is sent across the cellular network natively. The person with whom you wish to communicate over RCS does not need to download an OTT app or create an account. Instead, as is the case with SMS, messages are sent directly to the phone number of the user or device. As a result, RCS is considered by many to be a more convenient and wide-ranging communications platform than OTT counterparts that require the sender and receiver to be using the same app.

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