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RCS vs. SMS: Which reigns supreme in text marketing?

Alia Paavola
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Recently, more attention has turned to the RCS vs. SMS debate thanks partly to Android’s public campaign that calls out Apple for not adopting the new communication standard. 

While both RCS and SMS are fundamental messaging technologies that help us communicate and connect with each other, in the business world, their differences pose the question: Is RCS or SMS better for text marketing?

In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of text marketing, comparing the age-old SMS with the innovative RCS. We'll explore the fundamental differences between these two messaging formats, their respective features and limitations, and ultimately help you determine the better choice for your text marketing endeavors.

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<h2 id="SMS">What is SMS?</h2>

SMS stands for Short Message Service. It is more commonly known as a standard text message exchanged between mobile phone users. While many people refer to various mobile messaging types as texts, SMS is defined as 160-character, text-only messages sent via a cellular network. For example, Apple’s iMessage is not an SMS message because it is sent via Wi-Fi or data instead of a cellular network.

The first SMS message, which read Merry Christmas, was sent in 1992. SMS has since become the most widely used texting technology despite a growing number of ways to exchange digital messages. 

Key features and characteristics of SMS

Here are some of the distinguishing features and characteristics of SMS text messages.

  • Message length: SMS messages are 160 characters
  • Universal compatibility: SMS is supported by virtually all mobile phones, including both smartphones and basic mobile phones
  • Low cost: SMS messages are generally cost-effective for both businesses and consumers. Standard text messaging rates apply, but they are usually included in mobile phone plans.
  • Plain text: SMS messages are text-only—they don’t contain photos or other types of media.
  • Sent via a cellular network: SMS messages are sent over a cellular network instead of WiFi or cellular data.

Pros and cons of SMS

Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of using SMS.


  • Digestible: SMS messages must be short and to the point, which makes them digestible and quick to read. 
  • Adoption and reach: All mobile devices and cellular providers support SMS messages.
  • Accessible and reliable: Mobile phones come with native text messaging apps that support SMS. Users don’t need to toggle on a setting or download a separate application to get text messages. SMS messages are also sent via a cellular signal. This helps to deliver messages when there’s no data or Wi-Fi.
  • Easy and familiar: SMS messages are easy to create and familiar to all.


  • Character limit: The character limit can make it hard to convey your message and tone.
  • Limited media support: SMS messages don’t support multimedia attachments like images and videos. Note: Keep in mind that MMS messages are a good alternative.
  • No read receipts: With SMS messages, it’s harder to track if a message was read.

<h2 id="RCS">What is RCS?</h2>

RCS stands for Rich Communication Service. It’s a messaging protocol created in 2007 to replace SMS with advanced features fit for the smartphone era. For example, RCS offers longer messages and supports the sharing of multimedia content. It brings a more dynamic and feature-rich experience to messaging, allowing for multimedia content, interactive elements, and enhanced branding opportunities.

The adoption of RCS has been slow for several reasons, including device and network limitations. Namely, Apple devices don’t support RCS technology, despite Google attempting to publicly convince the iPhone maker to adopt the standard. Apple’s response to the public campaign is that its iMessage provides similar features to RCS, customers aren’t asking for it, and frankly, it would lower sales for them. 

Key features and characteristics of RCS

Here are some of the features that differentiate RCS from SMS.

  • Rich media support: RCS enables the sharing of multimedia content like images, videos, and GIFs within messages.
  • Interactive elements: RCS messages can contain interactive elements like buttons, suggested actions, and forms, allowing users to engage with content directly within the message.
  • No character limit: RCS doesn’t have a strict character count. This allows you to exchange longer messages.
  • Read receipts and typing indicators: RCS messages provide read receipts and show when your contacts are typing a response.
  • Sent via Internet: Like iMessaging, RCS messages are sent via cellular data or Wi-Fi instead of over a cellular network.
  • Group messaging. RCS offers more features when it comes to group texting. For example, more people can be added to a group chat if using RCS. 

Pros and cons of RCS

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of RCS messaging.


  • Supports multimedia: A key pro is that you can send and receive multimedia messages with ease. These images and videos can improve messaging engagement.
  • Feature-rich. Compared to SMS, RCS messaging supports many features like longer messages, read receipts, and multimedia files.
  • End-to-end encryption. RCS chats are end-to-end encrypted. This means that no third parties can read eligible messages as they are sent from your phone to the phone you’re messaging.
  • Improved analytics. With RCS chat features like read receipts, you can better track engagement rates.


  • Adoption and reach. Only Android devices support RCS. Apple’s iPhone does not support the messaging protocol. Additionally, RCS requires newer smartphone devices and modern mobile operating systems, which could limit its reach.
  • Manual enabling process. To enable RCS messaging on an Android device, individuals must manually set up RCS chat. 
  • Complexity. While RCS has more features, this can mean increased complexity and more work to set up campaigns.

What’s the difference between iMessage and RCS?

The main difference between iMessage and RCS is exclusivity. iMessage, which comes pre-installed on all iPhones, is Apple’s dedicated messaging service. When texting between iPhones, iMessaging technology is used. The iMessage provides an upgraded, feature-rich experience for iPhone users. For example, iMessage allows users to add reactions to messages, see read receipts, have messages encrypted, and share rich media. 

RCS on the other hand is a chat protocol that aims to replace SMS, not iMessage. If Apple adopted RCS, it would add more features to standard SMS messaging between all phones (and particularly Android to iPhone texting.) But, currently, RCS is only supported on Android devices. RCS offers similar features to the iMessage, like read receipts, rich media, and encryption. But, RCS isn’t pre-installed on Android devices; users must manually add it.

<h2 id="VS">RCS vs. SMS: How are they different</h2>

There are several key differences between RCS messaging and SMS messaging. Some top differences are adoption, character count, and available features. Take a look at this comparison chart of SMS vs. RCS.

Character limit No Yes, 160 characters
Format Text and multimedia Text-only
Sent via Internet (WiFi or cellular data) Cellular network
Compatability Android phones All mobile phones
Adoption Varies by region and carrier Widespread
Security End-to-end encrypted Vulnerable to interception
and spoofing
Cost Varies by data usage for multimedia Cost effective, standard messaging
rates apply
Delivery receipts Yes No
Read receipts Yes No
Typing indicators Yes No

<h2 id="Better">So, is RCS or SMS better for text marketing?</h2>

There’s no black-and-white answer to whether RCS or SMS is better for your business. There are pros and cons to both messaging types. What’s better for your brand will depend on various factors, including your specific marketing goals, target audience, and budget. Here are some considerations to help you decide:

SMS may be better for you if:

Wide reach is essential: SMS is universally supported by all mobile phones, including basic feature phones. If your target audience includes users with older or less sophisticated devices, SMS ensures a broader reach.

Immediate and direct communication is vital: SMS messages are delivered instantly and directly to recipients, making them ideal for time-sensitive promotions or urgent alerts.

Budget constraints exist: SMS is generally more cost-effective than RCS, making it a practical choice for businesses with limited marketing budgets.

Simplicity is preferred: If your marketing messages are straightforward and don't require rich multimedia or interactive elements, SMS may suffice.

You market in the U.S.: The reality is that as of now SMS still reigns king for text message marketing in the U.S. That’s because Apple has no plans of adopting RCS, and the majority of Americans (56 percent) own iPhones. 

RCS may be better for text marketing if:

Visual appeal matters: RCS allows you to send visually appealing messages with multimedia content like images, videos, and GIFs. If aesthetics are important to your marketing strategy, RCS can make your messages more engaging.

Interactivity is key: If you want to engage your audience with interactive elements like buttons, suggested actions, or forms directly within the message, RCS provides this capability, potentially leading to higher conversion rates.

Enhanced branding is a priority: RCS allows for customized branding with logos, colors, and styles, helping you maintain a consistent brand presence in your conversations.

It's also worth considering a hybrid approach, where you use both SMS and RCS strategically based on the nature of your campaigns and the segments of your audience you wish to reach.

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If you’re looking for a way to reliably connect with your customers — no matter their mobile device type — try Textline’s SMS marketing platform today. With built-in tools like MMS, group messaging, SMS templates, integrations, and automations, you get the features and connectedness you need to scale customer communication.

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