RCS (Rich Communication Services) messages can provide mobile users with a variety of interactive capabilities they can't get in standard, 160-character SMS text messages. And Google said today it is working with partners around the world to bring those new capabilities to businesses in the United States, Mexico, Europe, and beyond.

In development for over a decade, RCS messages support a wide range of options from file transfers and live chats to audio and video calling. Google has been working with more than three dozen businesses over the past year to begin testing RCS messaging services through an early access program.

Several of those businesses are planning to demonstrate what they've been doing so far with RCS during next week's Mobile World Congress 2018 conference and expo, being held in Barcelona from Feb. 26 through March 1. They say RCS will enable companies to send messages that will let customers make purchases, schedule appointments, find directions, and more directly from within the messaging app.

'Better Conversations with Customers'

First launched in 2007, the RCS initiative has been led since 2008 by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), a trade group for the mobile device and services industry that organizes the annual Mobile World Congress. The group has been working with other businesses in the industry to develop a global set of features and standards for RCS messaging.

Among the organizations seeking to put those features and standards into action is Google, which is supporting RCS through its cloud-based Jibe platform. That platform is aimed at helping Google's telecommunications partners begin providing RCS messaging capabilities to their customers. Google is currently working with 43 RCS partners, according to Amir Sarhangi, the company's head of RCS.

"Today companies across food, travel, retail and delivery services in the U.S. and Mexico are starting to have better conversations with their customers using RCS as part of our Early Access Program," Sarhangi wrote yesterday in a blog post. "To help make RCS truly universal and give Android users a consistent and familiar experience with access to all that RCS messaging offers, we’ve been working closely with carriers and device makers around the world."

Sarhangi noted that RCS messaging would enable companies to provide "upgraded" experiences to customers who have already opted in to receiving messages from businesses.

Tests by Subway, Ocado, More

Companies already testing RCS messaging with consumers include 1-800-Contacts, 1-800-Flowers.com, Booking.com, SnapTravel, and Subway.

For example, the marketing platform Mobitivity has been working with Subway to enable the sandwich maker to send customers messages that let them locate stores, browse the menu, and order food without leaving the messaging app. Mobitivity plans to demonstrate its application at the Mobile World Congress next week. Another Google partner, U.K.-based Esendex, plans a demo of the RCS application it has developed for the online supermarket Ocado.

Google and other companies in its Early Access Program have also given demonstrations at other past events, including last year's MWC Americas. They included demos by 3Ci and Walgreens using RCS messaging for photo and cosmetics ordering, and by OpenMarket and MGM Resorts for message-based hotel booking.

"Business SMS is estimated to be a $40B+ market in 2017," Sarhangi told the GSMA in an interview last year. "But business SMS is limited to just 160 characters of text. With RCS we can upgrade the business messaging experience by enabling richer and more interactive messages . . . Businesses can create a branded experience with messages that come from their brand rather than from a shortcode that users don't recognize."