RCS (rich communication service) is heralded as the next evolution of SMS messaging. It's a service that's designed to replace SMS and MMS, shifting messaging to data and providing a much wider range of connected features.
It's basically like a non-Apple version of iMessage, something that Android users have been lacking for a number of years.
While the standard for RCS has been defined for some time, it's generally been left to the networks/carriers to roll it out - which hasn't happened. In the UK, Vodafone adopted the service in 2014, but it was the only UK network to do so, and has confirmed to us that it can communicate with other RCS-enabled networks and that most Android devices are supported.
Google is now taking the bull by the horns and enabling RCS in the UK and France, according to a report from The Verge, but with no word on other regions. On Android devices, the Messages app will be able to send RCS messages using Google's servers and bypassing the need for the mobile phone network to facilitate it - it doesn't have to go via the mobile phone operators' servers.
This is an important point: the Android Messages app supports RCS, SMS and MMS and can switch between the protocols just as Apple's Messages app can, meaning that you'll no longer need a separate app or service to get those advanced chat features. You will have to opt-in and accept Google's terms of service, however - it won't just automatically happen.
Android's failure so far on enhanced messaging has been a multitude of failed chat apps and a general acceptance of third-party services by Android users instead - WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger particularly.
Does that mean you'll be able to ditch third-party chat apps? Not really - RCS will only work over Android and isn't supported by Apple - so if you have an iPhone user in a chat, it won't work using RCS - it will be SMS or MMS instead. That dreaded green bubble moment.
That's right: all the people in the conversation need to be using RCS too and if anyone isn't, the entire conversation moves back to SMS/MMS instead.
We have asked EE, Three and O2 exactly how the service will be rolling out in the UK and are awaiting a response.
Three currently has a support page for Enhanced Chat (which is the RCS service), saying that Huawei and Honor devices will be amongst the first to get RCS in June, with Samsung following in July or August - so we definitely know it is coming.
You can check if you have access to RCS by opening Google Messages, opening the menu top right and tapping on settings > chat features. Here you'll see if the service has been enabled for you. We will update as soon as we hear more from the UK networks.