SMS is a simple but extremely powerful messaging protocol. Over a number of years, the SMS industry and the range of applications available to companies has increased exponentially. As a result, the number of SMS providers offering corporate-grade SMS solutions and platforms has also increased.
Due to the explosive growth, the once-simple task of choosing an SMS provider has become an increasingly complex process. Entering simple key phrases into the search engines for “SMS in Bulk”, “SMS API” or even “Send SMS using Outlook” returns thousands of results from competing businesses all of whom claim to be the best in the market
The aim of this article is to make the task of finding an SMS provider manageable by offering you a set of questions to ask yourself before signing with a company.
Define exactly what an SMS provider is:
An SMS service provider is a company that provides SMS messaging services but is not in itself a mobile network operator (MNO). SMS providers are commonly called aggregators.
The way in which an aggregator operates is that it will create multiple agreements with mobile network operators to send and receive data in and out of the MNO’s SMS Centre (SMSC). Aggregators can guarantee the delivery of the SMS up until it reaches the SMSC, once it has passed to the SMSC it is out of the aggregator’s control.
Aggregators are able to offer excellent network coverage, create different pricing plans for message delivery, offer increased flexibility for clients and ensure quality levels are met.
Start the purchase process by asking the correct questions:
1. Does the SMS provider have good network coverage?
SMS providers should be able to provide you with a detailed listing of their network coverage, moving from local MNO’s to international destinations. If the information is not available on their websites it should be available upon request.
2. How many credits does it cost to send a message?
The majority of SMS providers will quote their services and billing system on a credit basis. This functions where a 160 character message will cost one credit. If you exceed the 160 character limit the message will take 2 credits and so forth. However, it is extremely important to note that the delivery of a 160 character SMS to an international destination could result in a higher charge than one credit i.e. sending an SMS from South Africa to the United Kingdom could cost 1.3 credits.
3. What is the SMS provider’s network quality like?
The question needs to be asked whether the SMS Providers gateway is a reliable platform. Before paying for a service you need to ensure that the messages you will be sending will deliver to your recipients without incident or delay. Network quality goes hand in hand with the “Price of service” and “Service Level Agreement” points listed below.
4. Does the SMS provider support the protocol you intend to use to send SMS?
There are a number of ways to send an SMS from your system to the SMS providers gateway for delivery, these include:
HTTP – This is the most commonly supported protocol and is the transmitting of data over the internet.
HTTPS – This is the same as HTTP, however, the data is encrypted to ensure that it cannot be read by other parties on the internet
SMTP – The use of email to post data to the SMS gateway
XML over HTTP/HTTPS – An XML file is created containing one or more SMS ‘s to be delivered. This is a more efficient method of delivering bulk SMS’s like a large amount of SMS’s can be included in one HTTP post.
SMPP – This is a binary protocol for communicating with SMSC’s and is used for managing large volumes of SMS.
5. Are you able to test the SMS provider’s services before signing a contract?
Before committing to an SMS provider you should be able to test their services to ensure that the system does everything that you want and expect it to do. This also creates an opportunity to rate the level of customer service and after-sales support, you would receive in the future.
6. Does the SMS provider have to fail safes/backup routes for your primary destination networks?
If an SMS provider experiences a problem on their SMS gateway with a delivery route (high traffic volumes, network outage, etc) they should be able to seamlessly switch your traffic to a secondary route to ensure uninterrupted delivery of your SMS’s.
7. Does the SMS provider specify or guarantee a throughput speed on their SMS gateway?
SMS Providers should be able to provide you with an estimated throughput for SMS delivery. This will allow you to roughly calculate the time required for a bulk SMS campaign to deliver to your client’s handsets, thereby empowering you to effectively manage campaigns.
8. Price of the service
At the end of the day, price is a necessary concern and a large deciding factor. However, you need to determine the value of the service i.e. Basic reliability of the platform – will my message actually be delivered and if so will it be on time? Does the SMS Provider offer delivery reports on sent SMS’s (network and handset delivery), will I receive client replies, can I customize the sender ID, will I receive usage reports, am I able to schedule messages for future delivery, can I view usage by time period, user or company? Increased functionality on an SMS provider gateway will incur higher costs as you are receiving premium service.
9. Has the SMS provider developed its own SMS technology and platforms or are they licensing and reselling products from another organization?
A large number of SMS providers are in fact resellers. As a result, they have limited knowledge of the actual technology they are selling together with a lack of industry knowledge. This can lead to poor customer support and poor results with your own SMS campaigns.
10. How long has the SMS provider been operating for?
Due to the rapid growth of the industry, there are a large number of companies launching reseller services on a daily basis. The amount of churn within the industry is high as a number of these business ceases operation after a short period of time. If you have purchased or accrued, credits with a company you will lose them, and in turn, your investment, when they close.
11. Does the SMS provider have large corporate clients or a testimonial page on their website?
SMS providers with corporate clients have, in all likelihood, met the due diligence processes that larger organizations impose on their suppliers. As a result, they should be able to provide you with a premium service.
12. Does the SMS provider promise a specific ‘uptime’ on their SMS gateway?
If you are sending time-dependent messages you cannot afford to use an unreliable SMS gateway that will either result in your message being delayed or failing.
13. Does the SMS provider offer delivery reports/tracking and reply functionality (two way messaging)?
Accessing delivery reports to view the status of a sent SMS or bulk SMS and then receiving client replies on sent messages is basic functionality that the SMS provider should offer you at no additional charge. These two functions create audit trails for your team and create an open two-way communication channel between your business and your client.
14. How does the SMS provider offer customer support?
Telephonic support is the easiest and fastest way to resolve a problem. Are alternative support methods offered in conjunction will telephonic support? – online help manuals, video tutorials, e-mail support, live chat.
15. Does the SMS provider offer a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?
The presence of an SLA outlines a provider’s commitment to reliable SMS delivery. The provider should be confident enough in their products and SMS gateway to offer a written reassurance to you.