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Verizon joins Google’s Jibe RCS scheme

Key Takeaways

  • Verizon’s adoption of Google’s Jibe servers marks a significant move in unifying carrier-based messaging services through RCS.
  • Google has been working behind the scenes to dominate the narrative around RCS and provide Android users with iMessage-like features.
  • Apple’s anticipated adoption of RCS within iMessage by 2024 brings hope for a universal messaging experience, but decisions need to be made regarding encryption protocols.

Notch another win for Google and its crusade to unify carrier-based messaging services through Rich Communications Services. Verizon has announced that it will begin using Google’s Jibe servers to deliver RCS messaging to its consumer and enterprise customers. It’s a significant move ahead of Apple’s anticipated adoption of RCS within iMessage for its iPhones and sundry devices — here’s what it all means.


What is RCS messaging and will it be truly universal?

Apple has confirmed it will support RCS in 2024 and that could bring about a universal messaging experience.

RCS and The Big Three

This move ends a prolonged trial in the wireless industry in the United States involving the deployment and implementation of RCS across carriers and even phone brands. The GSM Association, which steers standards for the industry worldwide, began work on the RCS standard in 2008, but didn’t publish what would become the Universal Profile until 2016.

T-Mobile was the first to jump the gun, delivering RCS to its customers in 2015. AT&T and Verizon did the same shortly after. What followed further was a long stretch of growing pains because each carrier’s implementation wasn’t cross-compatible with the others for a while.

Customers on Android phones were mostly texting each other through SMS and MMS while iPhone owners have been sending stickers, tracking read receipts, and bullying “green bubbles” all the same.

After a quiet effort between the major US carriers to unify their RCS implementations within their own systems fell apart (via Android Police), things started turning around.

Google had been working behind the scenes to dominate the narrative around RCS. After all, RCS would give Android users many of the same great iMessage features they so desperately wanted. The company acquired a would-be RCS server vendor, Jibe Mobile, in 2015. It would then announce plans to implement RCS among Android users by routing messages sent via its Android Messages app (later Google Messages) through its Jibe servers in 2016. Over the coming years, more swift moves would allow customers to begin using RCS without having to rely on whatever the carriers were doing.

To cut a long story short, the carriers began to give up. In June 2023, AT&T said it would be migrating its entire RCS operation over to Google’s Jibe servers. T-Mobile did the same in September. That brings us to today with Verizon’s announcement, bringing a good handful of customers onto Jibe RCS.

Sure, the plurality (if not majority) of Android users were already using RCS via Google Messages anyway, but for the few who were using Verizon’s proprietary implementation through the Samsung Messages app, this means that pretty much all RCS traffic on the mainstream American carriers is going through Google.

RCS and Apple

As Google pretty much has the carrier picture nailed down in terms of RCS adoption, the company has one less thing to worry about as it gears up for a major change. For several years, the company helmed a marketing campaign, trying to convince Apple to adopt RCS so that iPhone users communicating with Android users (and vice versa) would have access to the same advanced features as they would when talking within their own herd via iMessage or RCS. Importantly, it would also be a more secure fallback than SMS if and when iPhone customers interacted with automated text services.

In maneuvering the European Union’s deliberations over its Digital Markets Act — which would compel designated popular “core services,” perhaps even proprietary ones like iMessage, to be available on all relevant platforms — Apple announced late last year that it would adopt RCS by the end of 2024.

The company said it would be advocating with the GSMA to build end-to-end encryption into the Universal Profile standard. As brought to our attention by this Reddit post, Google has been implementing end-to-end encryption using the facilities of the Universal Profile as it was, but with the Signal Protocol, which is also used by the Signal messaging app. If GSMA stakeholders are being prodded by Apple to bake encryption into RCS, they may need to agree on whether to keep the Universal Profile’s current execution or go with a different one, which may include a different encryption protocol, among a host of other issues.

The hope is that these decisions can be made soon so that Apple can work RCS support into an iOS update this year and that Google can update its implementation of the Universal Profile so that every capable Android phone will be able to send and receive encrypted RCS messages in a way to which Apple is amenable.

Not to get too rosy, but if everything’s working as it should be, we’ll all be reacting with cry-laughing face emoji to high-resolution video clips sent via RCS with encryption on by default, no matter if we’re sending from or to either an Android device or an iPhone. The news from Verizon is just a small step towards a giant leap in telecommunications.

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