30 years after sending the first text, Vodafone opts for Google RCS

UK-based telco group Vodafone will adopt Messages by Google as the default messaging app on every Android device it sells.

Nick Wood

February 21, 2023

3 Min Read
30 years after sending the first text, Vodafone opts for Google RCS
Blue and white text message templates over white background. Concept of communication. 3d rendering

UK-based telco group Vodafone will adopt Messages by Google as the default messaging app on every Android device it sells.

The move is part of an expanded European partnership announced on Tuesday. Under the deal, Vodafone will migrate its Rich Communication Services (RCS) service to Google’s RCS infrastructure, Jibe Cloud, which underpins the Messages by Google app. The migration applies to business users as well as consumer customers.

The operator talked up the benefits of using RCS for securely and reliably sharing photos, videos and files with one or multiple people – benefits that have been available from over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps like WhatsApp for nearly 15 years.

The migration is perhaps more meaningful for businesses though, which as things stand today, prefer SMS to OTT apps as a marketing and customer service channel.

For business customers, “Vodafone’s adoption of Google’s RCS business messaging platform…will dramatically simplify business onboarding and operations, helping businesses engage with consumers through innovative conversational experiences for services and sales,” said Vodafone, in a press release.

Vodafone is not the only major telco to place its RCS future into the hands of Google. US giants AT&T and Verizon both made the switch in 2021, for example.

Going with Google RCS doesn’t mean Vodafone will end support for SMS. It will still be available on Android phones, it just won’t be the default messaging app. Furthermore, iPhone’s iMessage app is not interoperable with Android – and won’t be any time soon – so an Android user sending a message to their cooler, more popular friend who has an iPhone will have to make do with SMS, MMS, or the aforementioned OTT app.

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s announcement is worth marking because for three decades, Vodafone has – understandably – dined out on the pioneering role it played in the development of SMS. If it is December and the year ends in a two or a seven, chances are there will be a retrospective press release from Vodafone about programmer Neil Papworth sending a ‘Merry Christmas’ text to his colleague Richard Jarvis in 1992.

But the world keeps turning, and despite telcos coming out with MMS and collaborating on RCS, OTT apps have become the true default messaging app for consumers. They gained popularity primarily because they worked over Wi-Fi. That meant there was no limit to the number of messages that could be sent. Videos and pictures were easy to share and they didn’t eat into the user’s data allowance. And messages could be sent across borders without incurring roaming charges. By the time telcos had their collective act together with data allowances, RCS and roaming plans, it was already too late.

Moving on, as well as the RCS migration, Tuesday’s expanded partnership will also see Voda expand the availability of Pixel devices – which includes watches and earbuds in addition to smartphones – to more countries this year. Vodafone Group will also use Android TV as its preferred set-top-box (STB) platform for Vodafone TV services going forward.

“Expanding our excellent relationship with Google further will enable us to leverage their technological innovation to provide our consumer and business customers with engaging new experiences built on best-in-class services, all of which will be underpinned by our 5G and Gigafast broadband networks,” said Aldo Bisio, Vodafone’s chief commercial officer, in a statement.

“Google and Vodafone are teaming up to bring users modern messaging with RCS, an engaging interactive TV experience and exciting new Android smartphones,” added Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP of platforms and ecosystems at Google. “We appreciate the partnership with Vodafone and we’re excited to delight our millions of mutual customers across Europe.”


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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