Google is now completing the global rollout of its Rich Communication Services, popularly called RCS, in the Messages app on Android phones. The first effort to expand the version was in mid-2019, when Google announced that it will have to support a large number of operators for the global launch. RCS-based communication is similar to iMessage, it supports features like typing indicator, read receipts, real-time media sharing, group messaging, and more. In addition to these features, the Messages app is now testing end-to-end encryption for added privacy.
To give you an explanation, the Messages app on your Android phone has so far supported text messages, emojis in pictorial format, and read receipts for operators who allow it. Of course you have the Multimedia Messaging Service, also called MMS, but it is extremely limited and not common among users. MMS is also chargeable between carriers, which is why customers have refrained from using them to share media and other interactive content. Their troubles ended when dedicated apps like WhatsApp entered the picture, allowing them to share anything freely on the internet for free. The only money customers had to spend was on the Internet plan.
What is Rich Communication Services or RCS?
Rich Communication Services were created by Google to dramatically improve native messaging on Android phones by revamping the Messages app to support features available on Apple’s instant messaging and iMessage apps. But since these services had to be built from scratch, it required carriers to support such formats that can be ported over their networks. This is because all data will need the cellular network to reach the other user, in an IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) based system.
This method is similar to how calls over different networks work, but as far as messaging is concerned, it wasn’t using the full potential of cellular networks. The full potential encompasses a data exchange system that has dedicated apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Facebook Messenger works for communication.
All the things WhatsApp allows you to do form the foundation of what RCS is for, and the efforts behind it have been led by Google. RCS is supported by a group of telecommunications companies and approved by the GSM Association, the group that organizes the Mobile World Congress every year.
How is Google involved?
Google made sure that telecom companies would allow themselves to make RCS a success despite the problems initially expressed by these carriers for the technological barriers they possess and the technology they will have to acquire. Now that Google has partnered with a large fraction of operators to understand RCS and implement it for their networks in spectra and regions, the tech company is moving forward with the global rollout.
And now, Google is trying to allay the concerns that privacy advocates have been fostering for a long time. The technology company is introducing end-to-end encryption for messages so that information shared between end users remains private throughout the exchange process. Even Google or the telecom company that provides RCS on your phone won’t be able to intercept any of the content shared between two individual users, thanks to E2E encryption.
How will end-to-end encryption work?
Google will soon begin testing E2EE on Messages. In a post, the company explained how end-to-end encryption will work. This will be meant for one-to-one conversations in Messages. To ensure E2EE, Google uses the Signal protocol.
For E2EE to work, both individual users must be on the latest beta of Messages and have Chat over data or Wi-Fi enabled in the Messages app. When the connection is successfully established, E2EE will become active. There will be a padlock mark next to the text that says “Conversation with XYZ”. The encryption standard cannot be disabled manually, but if there is a barrier in the communication channel, it will be temporarily disabled.
The default behavior for messages here will be to hold messages until the end-to-end encryption is restored, but in case the sender wants the message to reach the recipient immediately, they can choose to send those messages as SMS, in which E2EE case not be supported. Nor is it supported for MMS due to the security standards that this encryption protocol follows. But E2EE will work on all devices and interfaces, including web messages that can be opened within an Internet browser.
What do you have to do?
Well, nothing. I suggest you wait for RCS to appear on your Android phone, post with which you can chat with other RCS users freely via an internet connection without paying any additional cost. I’m not sure if your carrier will support all of the features available within RCS but you will definitely have some, at least in the beginning.
For end-to-end encryption, you can try using the beta version of the Messages app, but I would suggest you wait for this feature to become available within the Messages app in the stable channel.
Google has begun rolling out RCS to everyone globally and has begun trials for end-to-end encryption within the Messages app.
- Google is now rolling out RCS to the Messages app globally.
- The Messages app will also receive end-to-end encryption soon.
- RCS will provide support for media sharing, group conversations and location sharing.