October 5, 2009

Text Message Transports for Utilities

We are often asked about the different approaches utilities are using to begin use of the SMS text message channel. There are many different possibilities, and these include a wide array of costs and services. The two most common transport approaches being evaluated and used by content providers such as a utility transport messages using the SMPP protocol or the SMTP protocol.  These confusing acronyms can be roughly translated into the delivery of messages using a “direct carrier connection” and delivery using “Internet email messages”. The SMPP approach provides a means to deliver messages from the utility directly to the carrier infrastructure, through an intermediary called an aggregator. This approach allows the utility to use a commercial, for fee service to deliver messages, and provides several important benefits:

  • Message delivery confirmation
  • Support for 2-way messaging
  • Scalability for large volumes of messages
  • Support for using random and vanity short codes for sending and receiving messages
  • Security message transport from the utility all the way to the cellular handset

The SMTP approach delivers messages by sending them to an Internet email address which represents a specific user’s handset. This may be something like 4125551212@vztext.net. The use of an email approach allows messages to be sent to customers on the majority of carrier systems as long as they provide both their phone number and their carrier.  There are several considerations for the use of SMTP text messages:

  • User registrations are lost if the user changes carriers
  • There is no guaranteed message delivery
  • Carriers may block or delay the delivery of messages due to volume, spam filters, or any other reason.
  • There is no direct per message charge to the utility for sending messages.
  • 2-way messaging is not supported

In addition to SMTP and SMPP approaches, there is an additional layer of application providers who offer solutions for text message communications. These cover a wide range, from shared short code providers, to micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter. One of the important issues to consider with these approaches is the level of control and brand protection that is appropriate for your organization. Each application provider will provide various degrees of flexibility here. For example, you can change the background or logo on a twitter feed, but the content is always hosted at twitter.com and text messages always go to and from the short code 40404. The text message channel is rapidly expanding in many sectors. At the same time, utilities continue to see increasing pressure to build trusted, lasting business relationships with their customers. Using SMS text messaging gives utilities a new way to deliver information to customers using 1-way delivery, and provides the first new truly 2-way channel for customer communications since the introduction of interactive websites. Watch for some upcoming posts on ways that utilities can use this channel to enable a wide array of customer transactions!