In 1992, the first Short Message Service (SMS) simply read „Merry Christmas”. More than 20 years later, texting via SMS has lost none of its purpose, despite the rise of multimedia messaging service (MMS), the smartphone in 2010, subsequent over the top (OTT) messaging apps and of course, social media solutions such as Facebook. Whether for personal or business use, SMS usage has continued unabated, which is impressive for such 'outdated technology’ that was originally designed for Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) networks. As 5G approaches, SMS remains.
When technology moves so fast, how has SMS remained so popular? How can companies capitalise on it to improve internal processes, customer services and other activities?
Trivial Update or Important?
Today, if dining in a local restaurant, we’re treated to a variety of repetitive whistles, chirps and other alerts from smartphones in the vicinity, most of which are ignored by their owners. The reason for this is simple; these alerts typically originate from messaging apps, which cost the sender nothing and as a result rarely require an instant response. An SMS alert is quite different and, while costs vary according to monthly subscription tariffs, there’s a cost involved. The result? Most will quickly read the message and send a response if necessary. In fact, marketing professionals are well aware of this fact, that SMS has the highest engagement rate of all messaging options, with 90 per cent of all SMS messages read within three minutes.
You’re probably wondering, why SMS? Why not call the person directly? Of course, that’s an option but if a group of people are involved, or you’re simply sending a short greeting or confirmation that you’ll arrive soon, isn’t SMS more convenient?
SMS vs. OTP Apps
When compared with Skype, Facebook or other messaging solutions, SMS has several other advantages. SMS bundles are typically included as part of a service plan and are directly linked to your mobile phone. In other words, if you use a mobile, you have SMS functionality without having to subscribe or join another service. You don’t have to invite contacts or accept invitations to communicate.
Not everyone has a smartphone so use of SMS ensures that your contact will receive your message regardless of phone type. The same isn’t true of OTP apps, which relies on high-speed internet to work. If you lose your 3G signal, voice and indeed SMS are still possible.
In fact, in an emergency situation such as a blackout, or during times where mobile traffic is very high (New Year’s Eve, for example), an SMS is typically the best solution as it’s queued in the short message service centre (SMSC) and will be delivered as soon as the bandwidth is available. An SMS text, being limited to 160 characters, takes much less bandwidth than a voice call so is more likely to be processed quicker. Compare that with the frustration of repeatedly dialing and receiving no response.
P2P and A2P
SMS is broken into two distinct types, namely person to person (P2P) and application to person (A2P). P2P is self-explanatory and can include voting for reality TV shows and entering competitions but A2P is primarily used in the business world and is a growing market, having been adopted by many industry areas and repurposed to aid several business processes including but not limited to:
- Customer Security – A2P is used by companies as part of a two-step or two-factor authentication (2FA) process when accessing services that are considered a viable target for hackers. The process typically involved a standard login to a service. Then, as the second step, a passcode is sent to the user’s phone by SMS. The user then enters the passcode and is able to access the service. Banks, other financial service providers and organisations such as Google, Facebook and Hootsuite also protect their customer accounts by combining geolocation detection with SMS transmission, alerting users that their account has been accessed from a suspicious location.
- IT and risk management – IT teams may not work 24 hours a day but your business network may well rely on services that require 100 per cent uptime, such as support ticket management or e-commerce solutions. Devices that incorporate a mobile SIM card can alert you when internet connectivity has failed and reduce required response times considerably.
- Marketing – Due the high engagement rate mentioned previously, digital marketers with a 'mobile first’ strategy will include SMS as a vital part of their communication with customers.
- Emergency alerts – Emergency services are considering the addition of SMS and in hospitals, paging systems based on SMS technology are commonly employed. The reason is of course based on redundancy, when all else fails, SMS is an excellent and affordable solution.
In conclusion, advancing technology has made smartphones and global collaboration over broadband a reality but despite all this progress, SMS still has a viable role to play in connecting them. While email, OTP apps, VoIP are all useful, they rely on the internet. Without it, SMS and standard voice communication are the only options and are extremely unlikely to become obsolete in the foreseeable future.
Michael O’Dwyer is a Hong Kong-based business and technology journalist, independent consultant and writer whose stories have appeared on Forbes.com, The Street, IBM’s Midsize Insider, HP’S Pulse of IT, Dell’s Tech Page One and other IT portals, typically covering areas where business and technology intersect. He writes for both US and UK audiences and acts as a technology and open source advocate. Twitter: @MJODWYERHK