RCS vs. MMS vs. SMS: What's the Difference? – MUO – MakeUseOf

So many messaging protocols, but which one should you use?
When your text message doesn't send, you could always consider switching to another messaging option. There are a lot of three-word acronyms in text messaging these days: RCS, MMS, and SMS. Which begs the question: Why are there so many choices for sending a text message?
The last "S" in all those acronyms stands for "service," but each has specific requirements and different specifications. As you might have guessed, SMS and MMS are more closely related than RCS.
There was a time some time ago when every text message was an SMS. And back then, every text message was nothing but text. Even the length of the text was limited. Some readers may remember the days when a text over a certain number of characters was sent as multiple different messages.
SMS stands for "Short Message Service." The bad news is it can't send things like videos, reaction GIFs, photos, or even emojis. The good news is that it doesn't require internet or data; all you need is a cell signal.
SMS is still a working service on most phones. The other services we will discuss have more features, but sometimes, all you need is text. And, when you don't have internet and don't need fancy features, good old SMS can still save the day.
MMS stands for "Multimedia Messaging Service." MMS can handle longer plain text messages and also send things like emojis, images, and even short audio and video clips.
Technically, MMS doesn't require an internet connection (like SMS). MMS is currently the standard default messaging service on most phones, even if less advanced or more advanced options are available.
RCS is a contender for the new standard that could replace MMS, at least on some devices. It stands for "Rich Communication Services" and offers more interactive communications than we usually associate with text messaging.
Unlike SMS and MMS, RCS requires either data connectivity or Wi-Fi. However, an internet connection translates to even more versatile communications, including real-time info on messages and the ability to edit texts after they're sent.
Currently, it also means it isn't available on all phones or provided by all carriers. For example, RCS isn't available on iPhones, as it's a Google Android technology. Chances are you've arrived here because your Android smartphone has RCS as a default, and you had to change your messaging service because RCS didn't work for one reason or another.
Maybe there wasn't service, or the right kind of service, or the person they were texting had a different device or service provider. The fact is, for all that RCS offers, it still isn't a universal solution.
While carriers want to offer customers these perks, some technological legwork is involved in making it run smoothly. For example, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have all taken steps to ensure RCS messages work across Android devices and data carriers.
In the event a message doesn't send, an error message will usually appear above the unsent text, inviting you to switch to a different service. This is a quick fix, provided that the message doesn't contain any elements that can't be sent by older messaging services.
You can also toggle which message service you use in advance, which can prevent failed messages in the first place. This can mean switching to an older message service if you won't have Wi-Fi and only want to send short text messages or switching to a newer message service if you don't have data or want to send multimedia messages.
In either case, open your device Settings and select Network and Internet to toggle MMS Messages on or off. This is also where you can enable or disable Wi-Fi calling.
Navigate to your General Settings and then RCS Chats. From here, you can toggle RCS Chats on and off and set your phone to automatically switch to SMS/MMS if RCS isn't working.
RCS is becoming the Android standard and is the basis of Google Messages. Apple has its own version, called iMessage. For many reasons, Google would love Apple to drop iMessage in favor of RCS. According to Google, this would allow more fluid communications between Android and Apple users.
Of course, the other side is that it might provide one less reason for Apple users to use Apple. Apple is famous for promoting its products and services through exclusivity. Sometimes that makes Apple products and services superior, and sometimes it makes them feel superior.
Apple's iMessage is a great example of this. The service displays texts from Android users in a different color. Because this offers scant practical benefit, it's often described as a kind of bullying because it visually differentiates users of different platforms.
Is iMessage or RCS better? That's hard to say precisely because they aren't the same standard. Apple fans might prefer iMessage, and Android users might prefer RCS. Still, you're probably wondering about the similarities and differences between iMessage and RCS, regardless.


Both can send and receive text messages.
Both can send and receive text messages.

Both support sending and receiving multimedia content (pictures, video, audio, etc.).
Both support sending and receiving multimedia content (pictures, video, audio, etc.).

Group chat
Both support group chat functionality.
Both support group chat functionality.

Read receipts
Both support read receipts to show when a message has been read.
Both support read receipts to show when a message has been read.


iMessage is exclusive to Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.).
RCS is a universal standard supported by many Android devices and carriers.

iMessage provides end-to-end encryption for messages. This means only the sender and receiver can read the messages.
RCS supports transport layer security, which can encrypt messages in transit but does not provide end-to-end encryption.

iMessage is integrated with other Apple services, like Apple Pay and Siri.
RCS doesn't have the same level of integration with Android services.

iMessage is available wherever Apple devices are sold and used.
The availability of RCS can depend on the carrier and region.

Internet connection
iMessage requires an internet connection (cellular data or Wi-Fi).
RCS can operate over cellular data, but it also has the potential to fall back on SMS/MMS in areas without a stable internet connection.

At times of transition like this, it can be easy to get frustrated. For most people, most of the time, SMS was arguably good enough. On the other hand, some remote places are more likely to have internet than reliable cell service, making emerging standards more useful – if only the powers that be (namely Apple and Android) could get along.
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance writer/editor interested in exponential technologies. Jon has a BS in Scientific and Technical Communication with a minor in Journalism from Michigan Technological University.


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