Google’s ninth attempt at a messaging service will be based on RCS

Enlarge / The “Messages” application from Google.

It’s time for the annual overhaul of Google’s messaging strategy! The latest news comes to us via The edge, which has a great feature detailing Google’s 2019 messaging strategy: taking RCS back from operators. Google is now keen to run an RCS service on its own (an upgrade to the aging SMS system), with the service first launching in France and the UK later this month. RCS will be something like Google’s ninth instant messaging platform, after Google Talk, Google Voice, Google Buzz, Google+ Messenger, Hangouts, Spaces, Allo, and Hangouts Chat.

Last year’s Google Mail overhaul saw the company kill google allo (AKA Google Messaging Platform 2016) and focus on Google Messages (the company’s SMS client) for the purpose of promoting RCS. RCS, or Rich Communication Services, is a planned upgrade of the carrier-owned SMS service, and it exists as a GSMA (the global trade body for mobile networks) standard for several years now. The objective of RCS is to bring very basic instant messaging functionalities to the operator’s messaging system, such as presence information, entry status, read receipts and position sharing. Like a real chat app, RCS messages are sent over your data connection, and messages, photos, and videos all come in larger sizes.

In last year’s plan (and all other plans involving RCS), deployment was the responsibility of the carriers. Each operator on Earth has had to individually upgrade their SMS infrastructure to support RCS and the “Universal Profile,” which is a federated system that allows RCS users on, for example, Verizon, to talk to RCS users on T-Mobile. With little financial incentive to do so, carriers have been extremely slow to modernize. And even when an operator is RCS compatible, operators certify the RCS phone by phone.

Google’s new plan is to offer a new RCS service to users instead of leaving it to operators. In the Google Messages app, which ships on some (not all, not made by samsung) Android devices, Google will offer its own RCS-based messaging service that users can sign up for. Once again, Google is announcing that it will first offer its own RCS service in the UK and France this month. But Google first got heavily involved in RCS in 2015 when it bought Jibe mobile, a company that provides RCS back-end services to operators. Now, instead of waiting for operators to adopt its back-end RCS service, Google would simply offer it directly to consumers.

One of the reasons Google has neglected to build a true iMessage hunter is its desire to keep carriers and OEMs happy, and this new RCS system is still designed with the carrier’s best interests in mind. Google’s goal here is not to replace or compete with operators’ RCS service, but only to fill in the gaps until operators are up and running with their own version of RCS. When (or if) an operator builds its own RCS system, Google says it will cede control of the RCS to that operator. Google messages must work with the RCS provided by Google or the RCS provided by the operator.

All the same problems with Google Allo

There are a number of reasons you wouldn’t want to run an RCS-based service, and it looks like Google’s call to use RCS means the new service will have a lot of the same downsides that killed Google Allo. First, although RCS messages are encrypted in transit, they are not end-to-end encrypted, which means your RCS provider (Google or your carrier) can read your messages. Since RCS is a GSMA standard designed to replace SMS, end-to-end encryption is just not in specification. This puts the system at a privacy disadvantage compared to most other popular services like Facebook’s iMessage and WhatsApp. Google was against encrypted messaging by default in Hi, but for RCS, Google is not in charge of the specification.

Responding to the encryption issue, a Google spokesperson told The Verge: “We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and that users have a right to privacy in their communications. we are fully committed to finding a solution for our users. ” This statement does not promise that Google will offer end-to-end encryption for RCS messages, however, offering only a nebulous degree of “privacy.” Again, it doesn’t appear that RCS supports end-to-end encryption – such a thing should apparently be offered as a custom system above the RCS standard for two users on the same client, the same. way iMessage works. . And when it comes to data retention, Google told The Verge that it won’t keep your messages once they’re delivered.

Like Allo, this new system would once again take the backwards approach of using a phone number-based identity system. Assuming it works like Allo and the existing SMS implementation of Google Messages, that means you’ll only be able to sign in to the service through your smartphone, not through any of your other devices. There will be no real desktop app for Google RCS, with only a website based on QR codes offered to people who wish to keep a browser tab open. The average American adult has something like four connected devices, but in the RCS world of Google, only one of them (your smartphone) is worthy of receiving messages.

The “Smartphones only” requirement will be a significant regression from Google Hangouts, which uses a cloud-based identity (your Google Account) to let you sign in through any device with an Internet connection. Hangouts offers apps for Android phones and tablets, iOS phones and tablets, an always-on Chrome app that works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS, a website at, integration with, and even applications for connected watches. iMessage works this way too, offering clients for every Apple device form factor. Phone number based apps don’t even come close to how a modern messaging system should work.

In addition to all of Allo’s old problems, an RCS system managed by Google goes virtually defeat the entire purpose of RCS. RCS on its own is a fairly basic messaging system, but its (theoretical) appeal was that carriers did it. Having RCS replace carriers’ existing SMS systems meant that RCS would be the default and prevalent messaging system that would work on all phones – again, that was the whole point to upgrade SMS to get started. A system managed by a carrier would lead to wide automatic adoption by many users, even if they did not know it.

A Google-owned RCS system would be on the phone Besides to SMS belonging to the operator. That would be over the phone as another option, leaving RCS’s only real benefit (the operator’s fault) out of the equation. The Google Messages SMS application used by this system is currently not available on the most popular Android phones, Samsung phones. RCS isn’t an option on iPhones either, and it’s unclear whether Apple ever wants to add support for a competitor for iMessage to its platform.

For now, the service will only be launched in the UK and France. Google has yet to give a timeline for the worldwide launch of the service.

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