Google is reportedly readying to launch RCS Chat, the next-generation texting protocol that is set to replace SMS. But while most carriers around the world have agreed that Rich Communication Service (RCS) should eventually replace SMS, only a handful have begun to roll it out.

Now Google appears to have taken the initiative out of the hands of carriers with plans to launch the service with features that you would expect from a modern messaging app, including read receipts, high-quality attachments, and typing indicators. (though, again, it lacks end-to-end encryption). Google’s Android Messages app refers to RCS as “Chat,” which is a more consumer-friendly name for the service.

The process will be opt-in. When users open up the Android Messages app, they will see a prompt offering to upgrade to RCS Chat. This will also apply to new phones. RCS Chat will be in the default app and offered to every Android user, but for now the plan is not to make it the default. Apple automatically opts users in to iMessage, but Google is going to require an active choice.

Though it is already available to users in the UK and France, Google has not set a date for worldwide launch. Once it arrives in your country, here is what you will have tos do to get chatting on RCS.

When you see the Chat prompt, click yes to enable RCS services from Google. Then when you are talking to someone else who has RCS, you will see ‘Chat’ in the app. Click on this to get talking. The messages are encrypted in transit, but it is so far not fully end-to-end encrypted, so your RCS provider can potentially see the contents of your messages and turn them over to the government if asked. Google says it will delete them from its servers as soon as they are delivered to your recipient’s phone.

It will work with any other phone that supports the RCS Universal Profile, regardless of whether Google or the carrier provides the service.

One notable difference between RCS Chat and other chat apps: there is no database of who has it and who does not. That option is not available for RCS, because it uses a ‘federated model’ where different carriers are in charge of the servers that deliver messages to their users. That makes it more complicated, but it is important that whatever replaces SMS not be solely controlled by a single company.

Because it cannot rely on a central database, Android Messages sends a query directly to the other phone. When you open a texting window in Android Messages, it pings everybody on that chat with an invisible message (sort of like a push notification) asking if they support RCS Chat, and Android Messages silently responds “Yes” if it does.

Those messages are a “capability exchange,” what google calls a “point-driven” model, as opposed to Apple’s server-based system for iMessage. The point-driven model matters because it’s also what enables Google to just roll this system out without waiting for permission from carriers. RCS supersedes SMS because the Android Messages app can simply tell other phones that it has Chat capabilities.

Because the phone itself is responsible for telling others that it has Chat, it is still tied to a phone number. It also means you will not be able to have messages come in to multiple devices at once. You can still use a web interface by scanning a QR code with your phone, but it still depends on your phone for sending and receiving.

Also, if you switch your SIM card over to a phone that does not support RCS Chat, Google will not ‘black hole’ messages. In other words, its system will recognize fairly quickly that you cannot receive Chat messages and revert back to SMS automatically.

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