Deutsche Telekom, Orange launch RCS, Google's answer to iMessage

Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Globe will preload Android Messages on their phones

Google’s alternative to SMS took a significant step forward with the new backing of some powerful carriers.

European telecom giants Deutsche Telekom and Orange threw their support behind Google’s RCS (Rich Communications Services) messaging offering, as did Globe, a carrier based in the Philippines. The operators will preload Android Messages—which was rebranded from Messenger for Android—as the standard native messaging app for their subscribers.

“We believe it’s important to innovate in messaging standards, so we’ve been working with the mobile industry on an initiative to upgrade SMS through a universal standard called RCS (Rich Communications Services), bringing more enhanced features to the standard messaging experience on mobile devices,” Amir Sarhangi, Google’s head of RCS, wrote in a company blog post. “Today, we’re taking a significant step toward making RCS messaging universally available to users across the world with 27 carriers and device manufacturers launching RCS to Android users with Google.”

Vodafone has already launched Android Messages across 10 markets for its subscribers, Google said.

Once known as joyn, RCS is a messaging standard for mobile operators intended to add features to text messaging like group chat, high-resolution photo sharing and more. Such services are common in third-party messaging services like Apple's iMessage and Facebook's WhatsApp, which—along with sometimes onerous text-messaging charges—is a major reason that users across the globe have migrated to those services and away from operators' SMS.

In November Sprint became the first U.S. carrier to partner with Google to launch RCS, but other carriers in the U.S. and elsewhere have been slow to roll it out. Google threw its weight behind RCS at last year’s Mobile World Congress, when the GSMA announced the internet giant would create an RCS client for Android.

Android Messages has been slow to gain traction among carriers until recently, but Canada's Rogers launched service in December, and Telenor began to support the offering in its Asian and European markets last week.

Google is also positioning its mobile messaging offering as a platform for businesses to reach their customers. While enterprises across countless markets have embraced SMS as an immediate, personalized communications channel, RCS’s features can support more compelling interactions, Google said.

“For example, a message from your airline reminding you to check in for a flight can now take advantage of rich media interactivity to provide a full check-in experience, complete with boarding pass, visual flight updates, and terminal maps on demand, all directly within the experience,” Sarhangi wrote. “Businesses can also have a branded messaging experience with information about the business and the ability to share content like images, video clips and gifs.”

Android powered 81.7 percent of all new smartphones sold worldwide during the fourth quarter of 2017, according to fresh data from Gartner, so Google obviously has a massive foundation on which to build its messaging platform. But whether it can entice users and carriers to support Android Messages when so many other options exist has yet to be determined.