As a marketer that helps business reach consumers (B2C) and other businesses (B2B), we’ve seen the use of SMS messaging proliferate worldwide. SMS is particularly effective when the mobile user is actually eagerly anticipating something from you; such as a special coupon, or their login credentials for a new mobile app you introduced.

If the SMS message gets there, that is.

When you press “Send” with a text message, you’ll get a message that says “SMS Text Message Sent.” Notice that you never ever get “SMS Text Message Delivered.” That’s because no one knows for sure!

As easy as it is to send a text message, the systems, technical and political differences between carriers and countries around the world means that SMS messages don’t always get there immediately (latency). Sometimes, they don’t even show up at all! Sometimes the URL’s are stripped. Sometimes the messages don’t show up in their entirety.

A survey of attendees at Mobile World Congress and CTIA’s spring show in Las Vegas found that 82 percent of respondents from 75 different countries who had sent an SMS or MMS message in the past year said their message did not reach an intended recipient. Further, one in 100 messages takes longer than a minute to arrive for almost all the Tier 1 carriers in the United States … it gets way worse in other countries. Delivery rates worsen again when it comes to MMS messages. Between carriers, up to one in every 150 MMS messages were lost in February, 2010

Using Caution when Depending on Mobile SMS for a Mission Critical Task

In my consulting at Stephdokin, and doing customer loyalty CEM at TCELab, an important aspect of our work is around understanding and ensuring when a customer signs-up for a product, or even signing up for an email list, that they verify their account; double-opt in. So, using SMS Mission critical processes such as registration authentication might not be as effective as one may hope.

There are glitches in the SMS mechanism that tend to occur in a number of cases. For example, when a customer on one network sends a text message to a customer on another network, that text message may be handed off to a different gateway provider. Not all the gateway providers update their information at the same time and so sometimes a message can be slowed or not even delivered.

Mob4Hire Lab

SMS problems also happen when a customer has ported their number to another carrier. The FCC requires that the number be ported within a couple of hours so that the customer’s voice calls are directed to the appropriate carrier. However, on the text side, there isn’t the same requirement. That means the customer that recently ported their number may not receive text messages promptly or sometimes at all.

I should note that one of the other companies I’m involved with, Mob4Hire, has just announced an Android app that allows Mob4Hire’s customers to do automated SMS message test delivery of their SMS’s in 156 countries on 444 carrier combinations. See Mob4Hire’s app in the Google Play store.

Why do SMS problems happen?

  • SMS StackSMS is a description of a service provided by wireless carriers, rather than a description of a method of delivery. As a consequence, methods of delivery differ and interoperability difficulties prevail. The SMS glitches are primarily a result of there being no standards or best practices put in place or enforced.
  • Fragmentation of carriers. Over and above inconsistent transports, carriers do not typically allow public access to their networks. Many SMS developers opt to bypass the carrier and implement their own solutions. Alternatively, developers opt to ally themselves with an SMS broker and incur additional fees for service. SMS brokers also experience SMS deliverability issues.
  • SMS aggregators are constantly looking for the cheapest route to deliver SMS messages going through their systems; cheapest is not always the most reliable of course.
  • Unsatisfactory interoperability among carriers. Difficulties are often encountered in sending SMS messages among carriers because of implementation differences. Payment models also differ significantly among carriers. This difference is especially stark when you compare carriers in North America to carriers in Europe, where only the sender is charged for each SMS message.
  • Different interpretation by network operators. Since your text messages are exposed to the carrier, some implement “screening” processes where certain URLs are not allowed, nor text key phrases; especially in countries where SMS spam is becoming a problem.

Can SMS be trusted?

Should SMS be used for marketing and mission critical processes like registration authentication? Yes, of course. But, like many things in our marketing world, it’s important to test both the content/brand/messaging as it is testing the technical aspects of our delivery channels.