This was a very interesting discovery. When I was setting up my Pixel 6 with the Econet eSim, I got a notification to sign up for RCS messaging. During my Tecno Camon 20 Premier review, I got the same notification with an Econet Sim in the phone. But I only got to experience it very recently thanks to a friend and coworker of mine who sent me an SMS via RCS. Are you confused as to what RCS is? Easy. It’s iMessage but for Android.
Rich Communication Service (RCS)
RCS stands for Rich Communication Service which is an industry-wide standard for a more enhanced sms service. It removes the limitations of SMS like character limits and enables some features we are now used to having on chat apps like WhatsApp or iMessage.
You can send media and files within the SMS app and be able to reply and react to messages. You can even send stickers and gifs. So RCS will just bring all your WhatsApp features to SMS. Think of it this way, RCS now offers you free unlimited texts so long you have an internet connection which can be wifi or mobile data.
How do you get to use RCS?
Having an Econet line and access to the internet does not automatically mean that you now have access to RCS messaging. You also need an SMS app that supports RCS with the easiest one to recommend being Google Messages.
It’s easy because Google has been pushing RCS messaging in a really big way, even publicly calling out Apple to implement RCS support in iMessage, so if you are on Econet and you want to enjoy RCS, download the Google messages app and set it as your default SMS app.
So these are the requirements for you to be able to use RCS messaging.
- Your mobile operator must support it which is only Econet in Zimbabwe, for now.
- You need to have an Android smartphone. Apple does not support RCS messaging
- Your default SMS app needs to be compatible with RCS. Google Messages is a great option
- You will need to turn on RCS messaging in the SMS app.
- Have access to the internet. Mobile data or wifi.
Your contacts also need to have the same stuff for you to be able to communicate with them using RCS, otherwise, the app will default to regular SMS. It’s like how you can’t send someone a WhatsApp message if they are not on WhatsApp. As for the type of phone, RCS works on any Android device. If it can run WhatsApp then it definitely can run RCS.
What if I do not have internet?
Ok, so we have established that RCS is similar to WhatsApp and iMessage in that it needs an internet connection and an RCS-capable sms app for it to work. So what happens when there is no internet because, after all, we are in Africa?
Different smartphone makers deal with it differently. Tecno will automatically switch to SMS if it fails to send the message via RCS. The Google Pixel 6 will keep trying to send the message using RCS unless you tell it manually to switch to regular SMS.
This will obviously not support any media files attached to the messages, unless you use MMS, as well as the read receipts aka double ticks. But either way not having data will not affect your ability to send regular text messages.
So for a regular person like you and me, the big deal with RCS is the prospect of being able to enjoy an iMessage or WhatsApp messaging experience right inside the Android SMS app. Or put simply, free unlimited SMS. But this is not where the biggest potential for RCS is. Businesses stand to gain the most with RCS.
RCS is a BIG DEAL for businesses
The current state of business communication to its customers via SMS is very plain. You either have a weird number like +263164 for EcoCash transactions or the name of the business instead of a weird number as is the case with banking SMS notifications and online services like Google.
But it all looks the same in the SMS thread and it can all be a mess. I actually want to commend Tecno for doing a good job organizing SMS messages by grouping all notification and announcement texts on their own away from SMS chats with real people.
RCS can massively improve the way businesses interact with their customers via SMS in 2 very big ways.
1. Brand identity & Authenticity
The first is the branding of a business. So when you let’s say enter the EcoCash chat, it will have the EcoCash logo as well as a verification badge showing it is an authentic business as opposed to +263164. These verification badges help customers identify if they are interacting with an authentic business. Similar to verified businesses on WhatsApp.
RCS can eliminate a huge chunk of SMS spoofing simply through customized branding of the business’ SMS chat and by also showcasing a verification badge alongside the business logo similar to the verification logos for some businesses in WhatsApp. RCS also opens up doors to enhanced SMS security.
Google’s RCS business messaging provides end-to-end encryption between the business and the customer, features that are not supported on traditional SMS that guards against sim swapping, a common method of hacking that is used on traditional SMS.
2. Enhanced customer interactions
The second and most exciting one is the user experience. Where SMS is text-based with character limits, it only allows for a single form of interaction between the business and the customer.
With RCS there are no character limits (okay it’s actually 8,000) but not only that, businesses can have buttons within the SMS chat that you can click on instead of typing. So some of the features you can access in a dedicated app for that business can be transferred to an SMS chat.
A customer can be able to do stuff like interact with an advert or perform tasks like recurring payments, and bank transfers, and chat with customer support all through SMS. In fact, let me put it this way. Almost all the services that you need an app for right now. Banking apps, wallet apps, DStv apps, apps for your bills and utilities, all the services you look for in these apps can be delivered via SMS within that entity’s chat.
An SMS app could be the next super app
Instead of a business asking customers to download their apps or even save a specific number for their WhatsApp Chatbot, with RCS all these businesses will need to do is send an SMS to their customers and they will immediately have access to all the business services including support for the use of chatbots in the SMS chat.
It’s funny that we have been talking about super apps like Sasai that do everything but I feel that the real super app is probably going to be your SMS app. It’s capable of covering social and utility functions in an already familiar interface.
So if there is ever a business case for MNOs when it comes to RCS, it’s actually businesses working with MNOs for the ability to have RCS available to their customers on an MNO that supports the service. Ads and surveys over RCS are going to be a lot more interactive, Government entity messages will carry more detailed information and be open to better presentation. You can click here to view a live demo of how Nottingham Forest football club is using RCS for stuff like booking tickets for a soccer match.
Really RCS is quite exciting in the opportunities it’s going to open up in SMS. I am not too sure why Econet is not giving this more airtime than they did for 5G but they should. RCS utility is, in my view, bigger than 5G connectivity.
However, credit where credit is due, they are the only MNO in Zim to have made this service available. It’s now up to Econet subscribers and businesses to give it a spin and put it to the test—a life where all your bills and utility apps are basically SMS chats. Interesting times. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Oh and happy 25th birthday Econet.