Real-time text – or RTT – is a technology that allows text to be sent immediately as it is created through wireless handsets that use IP-based technology on networks that support RTT. With RTT, there is no need to press a “send” key as there generally is for SMS, chat, or other types of texting. A recipient can read a message while the sender types it. Instant text transmissions are similar to the instantaneous exchange of information in voice conversations over the phone and can be critical for emergency calls to 911.
Wireless service providers and manufacturers of wireless handsets, which are required to support TTY technology, can now use RTT as they migrate to Internet protocol-based technology.
Advantages to RTT
In addition to improving accessible emergency communications, RTT has several advantages over TTY:
- RTT can eliminate the need to purchase specialized devices, such as TTYs, to send text in real time over wireless phones.
- Calls using RTT can be initiated and received using the same ten-digit numbers used for voice calls.
- Both parties to an RTT call can send and receive text in real time at the same time, unlike TTYs, which requires turn-taking.
- RTT is more reliable than TTY technology over IP networks – this means there will be less garbling and fewer drop-offs on calls.
- RTT provides callers with more characters for typing than TTYs do. For example, with RTT, you can use the “@” key, alphabets in multiple languages, and emojis, allowing conversations using the full “international character set.”
- Both RTT and voice can be used, either at the same time or interchangeably, during the same call.
With RTT, you can call:
- Other RTT users, regardless of the network or device they use
- Emergency services by dialing 911
- Relay services by dialing 711
- TTY users, including individuals, businesses, and government agencies
The FCC encourages service providers and manufacturers that support RTT to provide accessible call indicators to inform callers about audio activity that takes place during phone and incoming RTT calls. This is to ensure that people who cannot hear know when their outgoing calls are answered or when they reach a busy signal – just as ringtones and aural busy signals provide such notification to people who can hear.
Also, the FCC encourages inclusion of the following features and capabilities typically available to voice telephone users:
- Latency and error rates that are functionally equivalent to real-time voice telephone communications.
- The ability for callers to use teleconferencing, caller ID features, interactive voice response systems and to transfer calls.
- The ability for callers to control text settings, such as font, size and color.
- Making RTT a pre-installed feature of wireless devices that is enabled by a default setting – so RTT is readily available without the need to turn it on.
Companies that choose to provide RTT services instead of supporting TTYs over their wireless IP networks must follow the following timelines:
- December 31, 2017: Companies that provide wireless services nationwide – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – must either make a downloadable RTT application or plug-in available or implement changes to their networks to support RTT and offer at least one RTT-capable handset.(Since this deadline, Sprint has merged with T-Mobile.)
- December 31, 2019: Nationwide carriers must support RTT on all of their new wireless devices.
- June 30, 2020: Companies that provide wireless services locally or regionally, but not nationwide, must either make a downloadable RTT application or plug-in available, or implement changes to their networks to support RTT and offer at least one RTT-capable handset. (Some local and regional providers have asked the FCC to extend this deadline, and the FCC is reviewing these requests.)
- June 30, 2021: Local and regional providers (including resellers) must support RTT on all of their new wireless devices.
Wireless Equipment Manufacturers
- December 31, 2018: Manufacturers of handsets for use with wireless IP-based voice services must implement RTT in all handsets manufactured after December 31, 2018.
Because not all wireless service providers and manufacturers have transitioned to support RTT, you should check when purchasing a new wireless handset to see whether it is RTT-capable and whether your service provider supports RTT on its network.
Currently, some carriers have been waived from the requirement to support TTY on wireless IP networks, including calls to 911, subject to the following conditions:
- Carriers must notify consumers that their IP-based wireless services will not support TTY technology for calls to 911.
- Carriers must provide consumers with information about alternative text-based accessibility solutions.
- Carriers must file periodic progress reports on their development of RTT with the Commission.
For now, TTY and RTT technologies must be interoperable, which means TTY users and RTT users must be able to communicate with each other. However, communication between RTT and TTY users will be limited to the TTY character set, rather than the RTT international character set, and RTT and TTY users will need to take turns sending and receiving messages when texting each other. The FCC has an open proceeding about the length of time the TTY-RTT interoperability requirement should continue.
File a Complaint
The FCC is updating its Consumer Complaint Center to permit individuals to file complaints online concerning our rules governing TTY and RTT access to wireless services. At this time, if you have a problem with such access, you may file a complaint by letter, phone, or e-mail:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
45 L Street NE
Washington, DC 20554
If you need assistance filing a complaint, you may also contact the FCC's Disability Rights Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 202-418-2517 (voice), or 1-844-432-2275 (videophone).
Your complaint should include the following information (if available):
- Your name, address, and other contact information, such as telephone number and e-mail address.
- The name and contact information of the device manufacturer or wireless carrier.
- Information about the device or software used.
- The date or dates that you purchased, acquired, or used, or tried to purchase, acquire, or use the device.
- A description of the accessibility problem and what would like done to solve the accessibility problem.
- How you would like the FCC to respond to you, such as by e-mail, letter, or telephone.
- Any additional information you think is appropriate.
For more information about RTT, or to learn more about FCC programs that promote access to communication services for people with disabilities, visit the FCC's Disability Rights Office website at www.fcc.gov/disability.
Real-Time Text: Improving Accessible Telecommunications (PDF)