SMS or Short Message Service is one of the oldest technologies used for texting, with its invention going back to the 1980s. SMS, as we know it today, originated from the wireless telegraphy used in memo pagers. In 1985, SMS became part of the GSM or Global System for Mobile communications. Now, billions of SMS text messages get sent every day, whether it is someone messaging their significant other to let them know dinner is ready or a business using SMS marketing to sell their product. The short part of SMS named so because of the character limit of 160 alphanumerical characters, which is part of the GSM character set, GSM-7. A message can exceed this character set restriction, though the message will get split into multiple 160-character messages, or the message can get sent as a single MMS message. The 160-character limit was a technical decision, though previous observations of messages sent via other means suggested 160 characters were ideal for relaying information.
Often alongside SMS messages, are MMS messages. MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service and get used for sending a message that is either over the character limit of an SMS or contains multimedia content, such as a video, audio, or picture file. Though MMS messaging came about due to the technology of SMS, it is handled differently by the cellular provider. An MMS message gets encoded before being forwarded to the mobile phone carrier’s MMS server, known as the MMSC. The MMSC then forwards the message to the intended recipient. However, not all cell phone handsets can receive MMS messages. If the device accepts such messages, then all is well, though if not, a website link gets shown, which the recipient can search for in their web browser. Additionally, MMS messages do not have a character limit, which would be impractical due to the nature of their content. Instead, there is a memory limit that got set at 50kb on the very first MMS capable devices.
How Does SMS Messaging Work?
When an individual uses a mobile phone to send a text message, that message is usually an SMS message. The message gets sent from the phone to a cell tower nearby, which then forwards the text to an SMSC. The Short Message Service Center will then forward that message to a cell tower that is close by to the intended recipient of the message. Finally, the cell tower sends it to the mobile device of the recipient. Text is not the only content of an SMS, as it also contains the length of the message, time stamp, and destination, hence how the SMSC knows where to forward it. This process isn’t always instant, as the SMSC will hold the SMS message until the receiver turns their cell phone on, though it will only hold the message for several days.
The Advantages Of SMS
SMS messages come with a variety of advantages. Sending a text message is less time consuming than a 10-minute phone call, and quicker than sending an email. An individual types out a short, direct message, hits send, and all done. It is also more discreet than the cell phone conversation mentioned before. SMS also has advantages for those with disabilities, such as partial hearing or deaf individuals, who cannot use a phone for telephone calls. Text messages provided the device has the capacity, can also be transferred into speech, and vice versa, which helps visually impaired users communicate. SMS messaging also has benefits for businesses looking to perform telemarketing, with more on that below.
The Disadvantages Of SMS
Where there are advantages, there are sure to be some disadvantages, and SMS messaging is no different. One of the benefits of SMS text messages may also be a disadvantage for some and that is the 160-character limit. Short, concise messages are great for relaying vital, though not complicated information, though holding a full conversation through SMS is awkward and can rack up quite a phone bill, as each sent message costs money.
Another downside is that SMS messages aren’t always received instantly, unlike other more reliable forms of text communication. If the SMSC is dealing with congestion, the message can get held up. Alternatively, if the recipient’s mobile is out of a service area and does not get a signal in time, they may not receive the message at all.
Finally, unlike other forms of messaging, without special software, there is no way a sender can know if the recipient has read their message. Some telephone services offer a delivery receipt, though this isn’t a clear indication of the message getting read.
A Brief History Of SMS
The addition of SMS text messaging to mobile phones came in the early 1980s on the basis that the services offered by the public telephone networks and data networks should be available on mobile devices. The French-German group GSM then further developed this idea, with the GSM already optimized for telephone services. They wanted to use that existing infrastructure to transport SMS messages on the lines used for sending a telephone signal. Up until this point, these lines were not used for this form of traffic. GSM planned to use that untapped resource to send messages at a minimal cost, which ultimately led to texting becoming one of the most popular means of communication.
The First Message
This text messaging service to replace pagers finally saw the light in 1992 when the first SMS message got sent by Neil Papworth via the Vodaphone network in the United Kingdom. The message read, “Merry Christmas.” The first commercially available SMS texting service wouldn’t come to fruition until a year later, 1993, offered by Radiolinja, a GSM operator from Finland. Even then, not all cell phones could send SMS messages, with Nokia being the first real adopter. From there, the growth of the SMS service was slow. One of the reasons behind this was that operators were slow to implement pricing to go beside the SMS messaging services, especially for prepaid subscriptions that were already in place. There was also concern that consumers would take advantage of the system by manually changing which SMSC the message goes to, meaning their actual supplier wouldn’t be able to charge them. The UK did try and combat this by restricting the sending and receiving of messages to the same network. A restriction which was in place until 1999.
SMS Messaging In The World Of Today
In 2010, over 6 trillion SMS text messages got sent. That works out to over 190,000 SMS messages sent per second. That number grew each year, though SMS messaging has seen recent competition from OTT services. Services such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage allow users to send text messages over an internet connection. An internet-capable device, whether a phone or tablet such as an iPhone or iPad, can send a message to another user. There is no character limit with such a system, and all that is needed is an internet connection. However, though SMS is becoming less popular for everyday use, businesses still use it.
SMS Messaging For Businesses
SMS marketing has many reasons for being a preferred method by businesses for reaching out to consumers. An SMS message can relay a coupon code, information on a product, or a direct link to that product, exclusive offer info, and more. If a company is not using SMS marketing, they miss out on an opportunity to maximize its advertising campaign.
The Benefits Of SMS Marketing
The closest comparison to SMS marketing is email marketing. An email can go to a spam folder, hardly gets opened, and a large amount of text often gets ignored. The alternative, SMS messaging, has a high open-rate and read rate, with nearly 90% of all text messages opened and in the first few minutes of being received. The fact that there is no need for the internet only furthers an SMS marketing campaigns reach.
Along with a higher chance of being opened, most SMS marketing platforms provide a tracking feature. Analytics are vital to marketing, with the below being just some examples of the information available:
- How many of the sent messages got read by the recipients?
- What is the click-through rate of the link in the message?
- Where in the world is the message making most traction?
Another benefit of running an SMS campaign comes from how interactive and tailorable the messages are. Whether a website link or a reply button, an SMS message can prompt consumer interaction better than other forms of advertising.
However, the most significant advantage of SMS marketing is its reliability and affordability. With the right SMS marketing service provider, setup and implementation of a mobile marketing plan takes no time at all. Provided a receiver’s phone is on, the message gets delivered instantly. Add to that, that text marketing is one of the cheapest forms of advertising and its clear why a business should be taking advantage of it.
For a business to succeed with its SMS text message marketing, their best option is to use a Bulk SMS system. A company has hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, to send a message to, and there is not a single person assigned to type out a message to each recipient. Instead, they can use a piece of computer software, whether a third-party program or built into their interface, to send marketing messaged as a single group message or Bulk SMS. The employee of the company composes an SMS message. Through the use of an SMPP protocol, they then send that message to SMSC or SMS gateway, which will forward on the mobile network provider, who gets the message to the recipient. Easy to implement, time-saving, and affordable. These are all reasons why companies swear by such software.
As stated above, SMS messages are tailorable to a business’s purpose and one way that comes into effect is with the use of a short code. Short codes are what get used by businesses to allow customers to opt-in to their advertising campaign, subscribe to competitions, or receive an alert relating to a company such as a product release. Short codes are a combination of 5-digit numbers that come in two variants; a dedicated short code and a shared short code.
- A dedicated short code gets reserved for use by a single company. A company can use the same code over all their marketing campaigns, which provides a level of consistency and familiarity that consumers prefer. A dedicated short code is a clear sender ID the customers can connect with.
- A shared short code gets used by multiple companies, though it gets paired with an SMS keyword that allows consumers to get back to the company who sent a specific message.
(Opens in a new browser tab)
Other Ways Businesses Can Use SMS
As already concluded, SMS as a marketing channel is a great resource, though SMS messaging does not just have to be used for advertising to benefit a consumer. As stated above, companies can use SMS messages for sending alerts to customers who prefer alerts via text messaging as they are less intrusive. A business can improve its customer service by reminding a customer of upcoming appointments.
From doctors to hotels, from mechanics to retail chains, consumers can receive a quick message to let them know an appointment is coming up, expected delivery times, or if a consumer’s item is ready for collection. These are just some examples that a company can use to improve their customer services. Some online companies use SMS messages to help customers access certain services through SMS authentication, which gets addressed in detail below.
SMS messaging is also a great way, to not only deliver customer service but also to ask for feedback on the delivered service. A quick SMS prompt asking for feedback will not take any time out of a consumer’s day, but if they were happy with a service, they would be sure to reply.
Finally, a company can use SMS messages to keep the consumer engaged with the business if a consumer subscribes to such a service. Advice relating to what a consumer is interested in may encourage further engagement.
The Security Issue With SMS
SMS brought a new way for businesses to connect with their customers, and one way they do this is via an authentication SMS, the sending of a code or password to access a website or application. If a consumer forgets their login details to the business’s site, they can request a one-time code to login without their details. Though that sounds convenient for everyone, it comes with considerable risk to a consumer’s security. Anyone could be on the receiving end of that message and can use it to gain access to all kinds of personal information.
The most common way this happens is through Sim Swapping. An attacker gathers the relevant information about their target, name, address, login details, etc. They then contact the network provider taking on the identity of the person they have targeted. They request the phone number to get transferred to their phone, which they can do because they have all the security details. Ideally, a consumer should set other forms of authentication for their preference, such as security questions, along with managing their data properly to ensure they do not become a target.
Are Instant Messaging Apps Killing SMS?
As briefly touched on above, new systems have come about that may end up replacing SMS messaging, such as the OTT example. In the marketing world, this is not likely, but in a domestic setting, it might be another story. Many people own an internet-capable Android or Apple device that can access the internet almost as reliably as they receive cell signal from a wireless carrier. However, it is the fact that is stopping SMS from being eradicated. First, the mobile plan must have data included, and the user should have enough data left to use the mobile app.
Second, not everyone will have the same mobile phone apps. Some people opt for Twitter, others use Facebook, and Apple phones have their OTT chat functions, with Apple’s iMessage on the iPhone as an example. Android users have to download the messaging apps popular with the people they connect with regularly though who’s to say they all use the same app. iPhone users can only communicate with other Apple devices, with the use of iMessage, though not everyone has an iPhone.
The final issue is that even today, not everyone owns a smart device. Not all members of the older generation have adapted to smart technology. There are also instances where a smartphone is impractical, such as for those who travel a lot. SMS messages get delivered to a phone no matter if it’s an Android phone running Facebook messenger or an Apple device running iMessage. Even if the phone in question has such capabilities, an SMS might be best if the message needs to get read with urgency. Are instant messaging apps killing SMS messages? Not just yet, though that may be subject to change once the issue of compatibility gets resolved.