The success of today’s digital communications is largely predicated on the remarkable success of the mobile standard — GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). First introduced in Finland in 1991, this foremost global digital technology standard has always been based on the philosophy of continuous evolution, smoothly transitioning through several generations to today’s coveted 5G.

However, there is one gross anachronism in the dynamic GSM world and that is the texting product — Short Message Service or SMS.

The story of SMS stands out in telecommunications as a technology that effectively demolished Paging service but itself stood frozen in time while the world around it hurtled forward into the future. Born in December 1992, SMS was a revolutionary concept — a simple yet effective tool for sending short text messages over cellular networks. While mobile technology continuously evolved from 2G to today’s 5G, SMS languished, clinging to an outdated standard.

SMS’s limitations became increasingly apparent in the face of the burgeoning demands of the digital age. With the rise of smartphones and data connectivity, users seek multimedia experiences, seamless communication, and robust security measures to safeguard their interactions.

No wonder therefore that SMS is now being mainly used for service messages, in particular for the delivery of OTPs to enable two-factor authentication for internet banking. However, SMS lacks end-to-end encryption, leaving messages vulnerable to interception and unauthorised access. This poses significant risks, especially in this age of deepfakes, rampant cyber threats and scams.

The vulnerability of SMS prompted GSMA (GSM Association) to establish a robust unified messaging ecosystem under the oversight of mobile operators, called RCS (Rich Communication Services). This operator-controlled approach ensures greater consistency, interoperability, and security in messaging, providing users with a more seamless and reliable communication experience.

RCS, being designed to accommodate evolution, meets the demands of today’s interconnected world. Unlike its antiquated predecessor, RCS offer a rich array of features, from high-resolution images and videos to group chats and read receipts. It represents a paradigm shift in mobile messaging, embracing the modern era of digital communication while retaining the ubiquity and reliability of SMS.

But perhaps the most compelling aspect of RCS lies in its approach to security. With end-to-end encryption and stringent security protocols, RCS offers users peace of mind, knowing that their messages are shielded from prying eyes and malicious actors.

Maintaining interoperability with traditional SMS as well as modern messaging systems, RCS ensures seamless communication between users on different platforms and devices.

India, with its digital ambitions and rising smartphone user base, stands to benefit immensely from the adoption of RCS as a national standard for messages. Using RCS, India can not only enhance the efficiency of its communication networks but also safeguard the privacy and security of its citizens.

Moreover, RCS holds immense potential for enterprise services, offering businesses a powerful tool for engaging with customers and streamlining communication processes. With features like branded messages, interactive experiences, and secure transactions, RCS empowers businesses to forge deeper connections with their audience while ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of their interactions. For these reasons, some operators have already started using RCS for enterprise services.

For India, RCS promises to usher in a new era of communication, innovation, and security.

The writer is Hony.FIET(London) and President, Broadband India Forum. Research inputs by Sundeep Kathuria.