Friday, 17 August 2007

Two-Way SMS with Long Numbers

Talking to one of our network account managers recently, they told me that we were their best customer of SMS Long Numbers. I was a initially surprised but a quick search of other SMS providers sites reveals very few companies are promoting these heavily to their customers.

We've always believed that for SMS to be adopted as a business communication tool it had to provide a reply path. You can reply to emails, phone calls, faxes why not SMS. It's a core part of our offering. So much so in fact if you sign up for a trial, we'll give you one to try out.

The conventional approach is to use short-codes for this. Short, memorable numbers that are great for one time responses to ads or other marketing efforts. The problems with short-codes however are:

  • The subscriber is charged a 'standard network charge' to send in so the messages do not come out of their SMS plan or bundle
  • They are in limited supply and are thus have a premium cost associated with them.
  • You have to set them up on each network individually, making it even more costly
  • They do not work internationally

Now we've got round some of those issues by use of keywords to allow routing of inbound messages to the correct account holder. While this is great for single response channels, it's un-workable for conversational communication. You can't expect users to remember to prefix every message in a conversation with a keyword.

Enter the long number:

  • it looks like a normal mobile number
  • receives SMS like a normal mobile number
  • there are lots of them
  • there is no premium charge so the cost of sending comes out of your bundle/plan, well you need to be careful on this one

When it comes to charging not all numbers are created equal. Network providers in the Channel Islands (Cable & Wireless, Jersey Telecom) and on the Isle of Man (Manx Telecom) have numbers that are in the standard UK range, ie starting +44 (0)7.

Unfortunately however, the interconnection rates between these companies and the mainland UK operators (Vodafone, Orange, etc) is not regulated by Ofcom. This means that they can charge what they like and in T-Mobile's case they do.

T-Mobile regard messages to these providers as travelling to Europe Zone 1 and therefore treat them as an international messages rather than national. Which means, if you're a T-mobile subscriber, it doesn't come out of your plan

A quick peruse of the Ofcom's mobile number range allocations will tell you very quickly if the number your service provider is offering you will be affected.

In short if your number starts with 07786 or 07800 you're going to be OK, otherwise you need to beware.

At Esendex we provide numbers that are in the regulated number range in all of the countries we operate in. In our view there should be no difference between texting into a service or texting someone's mobile. Remove the silly barriers and users will adopt and embrace these services.

Ofcom have started a Wholesale SMS Termination Market Review. I have no doubt it will operate at glacial speeds but it could be just what the industry needs to remove this confusion.

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