In a stunning bit of late-night news, the big four US carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon — have just announced a "joint venture" to support cross-carrier messaging based on the RCS standards, starting in 2020. Sadly for RCS enthusiasts, this carrier collaboration is happening sans Google, and sans Jibe.
RCS is a pretty complicated subject, though it doesn't need to be. In short, although there is a widely agreed-upon set of messaging standards that allow for an enhanced experience above and beyond base SMS — called Rich Communication Services, or RCS for short — carriers haven't agreed to play ball on the subject. They don't all support the same standards, picking and choosing the bits they want for their own closed-off internal messaging networks, and even when they do support the universal standards, they don't always roll them out to all devices or connect them to other carriers' networks.
In short, RCS has been a wild ride for messaging, with none of the big players in the US working together. Just look at the /r/UniversalProfile table of carrier support here to see how confusing it is for customers. It's been so bad, in fact, that Google took matters into its own hands in Europe earlier this year, rolling out RCS support on its own through the Messages app, entirely separately from carriers.
This announcement changes all of that, which is good, but it isn't the answer we had hoped for.
Technical details are sadly a bit sparse, and RCS is nothing if not a technical subject. According to The Verge, this isn't going to be Google's Jibe that the carriers switch to, which is a huge bummer. Rather, it's yet another RCS standard of its own, though it should be backward compatible with other RCS Universal Profile implementations, and it will use its own cloud-based interconnect, connected to other RCS networks. So it will be inter-operable with Samsung and Google's versions of RCS, but according to a representative speaking on behalf of the Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative behind this new endeavor, it's going to use its own (new) app — the jury is out on whether it will work with Google's Messages app.
This new US cross-carrier RCS support is currently planned for Android devices on the big four networks in 2020, with more information to be revealed at a later date.
For a bit of context, the RCS enthusiast space (yeah, it's a thing) has been abuzz following a handful of reports showing RCS/Chat rolling out for folks on T-Mobile and Verizon via Google's Jibe servers. While we hoped that this news of a carrier collaboration on the heels of those reports was a sign that this would be a Google-sponsored effort, that sadly isn't the case. Those reports are still something else — we don't know what yet.
We've reached out to literally every source of information we have available for more information, including representatives from all of the involved carriers, and we'll be sure to update with any additional information we might get.
In the meantime, this is inter-operable RCS rolling out to all the big US carriers, but it may not be the Google-provided, Jibe-based, easily-Messages-integrated solution that so many of us wanted.
A representative from Sprint has further confirmed to us that this new standard will be based on the Universal Profile, as was otherwise implied.