When Google starting rolling out RCS messaging (Google Chat) in Android Messages, I couldn’t wait to try it. And it’s been fantastic—iMessage-like functionality with other Android users is awesome. That is, until last week when Google Chat refused to connect, and I was stuck in RCS Hell for four days.
What does that mean, exactly? It means that Chat disconnected, so all RCS features ceased to function. Other RCS/Chat users were getting my messages over SMS, but that didn’t work both ways—they were responding, the messages were showing as “delivered,” but I didn’t get them. Basically, messages were ending up in some purgatory, and everyone thought I was ignoring them. Considering the context and timeliness of some of these conversations, that left me in a bad spot.
Before we get into the trenches, however, a few things need to be clarified. To start, I use “Google Chat” and “RCS” interchangeably here. No need to think past that—for the scope of this article, they are the same. Secondly, well, let’s talk about what RCS actually is.
Cool Story, Bro. But What Even Is RCS?
Ah, yes. I’m glad you asked! RCS stands for Rich Communication Service, and it’s destined to (hopefully, eventually) be the replacement for SMS (Short Messaging Service). As text messaging has gotten more prolific (and the primary form of communication for many), it’s also become abundantly clear how limited it really is.
If you’ve ever used iMessage on an iPhone or iPad, then you’re basically familiar with how RCS works. It’s a “true” messaging platform—you can see when people are typing, react to messages, send higher quality video and images, and more. It’s what most people have come to expect from an instant messaging platform.
It’s fantastic … until it isn’t.
RCS Hell Is a Real Place, and I’ve Been There
iPhone users who switch to Android have likely experienced what’s commonly called “iMessage Hell.” When the phone number is still associated with iMessage, that’s where messages go. So if you switch to Android without first deregistering iMessage, those messages get lost into the abyss.
It’s such a big issue that Apple had to build a way for users to deregister iMessage after they’ve jumped ship. Back in the day, there was no easy way to fix this once the iPhone was gone.
RCS Hell, as described earlier, is basically the same thing. It’s a purgatory for messages that have a destination but no means to get there. They’re left, just floating around in cyberspace doing whatever unread, undelivered messages do, which I can only assume involves weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Here’s the difference:
there’s no way for Android users to fix that. I know because I tried. Here’s how it all went down.
Update, 8/2/21 9:32 am Eastern: After this piece was published, this page was brought to my attention, which does exactly what I suggest below. The original text is left in place below outlining the issue. During hours of searching and even talking with Google, this page once never surfaced organically, but I’m happy that a fix does exist.
Last Wednesday, I was at the Kia dealership having some work done on my car. I tried to send my wife a text, but it sat on the “sending” screen for a long time. I checked the internet connection, my VPN, and the mobile network. I restarted my phone. Nothing helped.
Then I checked the status of Google Chat, and it was stuck on “Status: Verifying.” I verified my phone number, but it wouldn’t connect. I tried a quick internet search and tested all the available “fixes,” which did absolutely nothing.
After two days of trying on my own, I contacted Google Pixel support (one of the many perks of owning a Pixel phone, by the way), who had me try several different fixes that I hadn’t already attempted. Again, nothing. By the end, we’d exhausted all the normal fixes and Google claimed it was my carrier. But that didn’t make any sense at all, because it worked fine on my wife’s phone.
Off to Cricket Wireless I went. If I’ve learned anything over my 10-year career, it’s that carrier employees know little to nothing about, well, anything. I tried to explain the issue, and as I expected, the service rep had no idea what I was saying. I had a hunch it might be the SIM card, so I just asked for a SIM swap after about 15 minutes of getting nowhere else.
Guess what? That didn’t fix it either. It had been three days since Chat last worked.
During all this, I had been disabling Chat to send SMS messages to people. They were getting those, but responses were still going into the abyss, despite having Chat disabled. The only way I was able to get any response was if the person manually went in and manually forced the message to send as SMS. That’s just too much hassle to even explain, let alone get someone to actually do—it’s not intuitive at all for most “normal” users.
After four days and dozens of attempts to get Chat to connect to no avail, it finally reconnected last Saturday morning. As suddenly as it stopped working, it started again. I got a flood of messages—probably 80 or more—including a few from people I didn’t know had even tried to text me. Oops.
There’s no indication of what caused the issue in the first place, nor what fixed it. It just all happened.
Google Needs a Better Fallback System
So, here’s the issue: if RCS fails, it’s supposed to fall back to SMS. But in my case, it didn’t—and I’m not the only one. A quick search showed that this is an issue for a lot of people. Considering that a large number of people have important conversations over text, this is unacceptable.
As outlined earlier, Apple offers a way to deregister iMessage in the event the user switches platforms, but this could just as easily be used if there’s an iMessage issue. Google’s current method of simply disabling Chat features on the user end is not good enough.
There should be a simple way to unenroll from RCS completely. That way, in an event like this, messages still come through. Then the user can have the option to re-enroll later if they choose. But it would effectively do away with RCS Hell, at least until a better method surfaces.
Unfortunately, You Get What You Get for Now
Update: As mentioned above, if you’re having issues with RCS and can’t seem to find a good fix, head to this page and use the “without your previous device” option to deregister RCS on the server side.
Alas, I don’t have a good solution for you right now. If you landed on this article after having Google Chat issues, I’m sorry. You’ve likely already tried all the “fixes” out there—clearing data for Carrier Services and Messages, resetting network settings, pulling updates, or even trying beta software. If those didn’t fix it for you, I don’t know what will.
If you haven’t experienced any Chat/RCS issues, then I hope you don’t. As I said, it worked perfectly for me for months. And it has continued to work perfectly since reconnecting last weekend.
If you haven’t yet enabled RCS or your carrier doesn’t support it at this time, you might want to consider the implications if you choose to use it. SMS has been around for a long time, and while it’s not perfect, it’s rock solid. If you have cell service, SMS will work 99.9% of the time.
That said, I’m still sticking with RCS and hoping this disconnect crap doesn’t happen again. The benefits are vast, and the drawbacks are few—especially if it stays connected all the time.