Five myths about using SMS for emergency notification

Despite the rise of app based messaging, old school sms texts still provide valuable benefits as part of your emergency mass notification service kit bag.

Did you know?

  • The number of monthly texts sent has increased by more than 7,700% over the last decade
  • 4.2 billion+ people text worldwide
  • Over 18.7 billion SMS texts are sent and received every day (not including app to app)
  • More than 98% of text messages from brands or businesses are read
  • 90% of SMS text messages are read within three minutes
  • Approximately 95% of the UK adult population owns a personal mobile phone
  • 99.6% of the UK has 2g coverage (sufficient to allow receipt of an SMS text message)

So, why wouldn’t you use SMS texts as part of your emergency notification system?

It’s a good question … and there isn’t really a good answer. Alert Cascade has worked with customers to provide emergency and business continuity communications for almost two decades; technology has continued to evolve during that time, so where it may once have been the case that SMS text messaging wasn’t resilient enough for an emergency notification system, that no longer rings true.

Myth number 1 – SMS messages have a poor delivery rate

There’s a grain of truth in this one. But as ever, the headline doesn’t tell the full story. Delivery problems are usually the result of poor telecoms routing, not the result of sending an SMS text. Some SMS providers opt to keep their prices low by using “grey routing” – this typically means that your messages are routed via another country, in order to avoid paying a fee to one of the telephony networks involved.

It’s not uncommon for grey routed SMS traffic to be bounced through a series of countries in order to avoid detection by the network operators. For you as the end user, this results in hold ups and lost messages. Even worse, because the routing is so convoluted, delivery and read receipts become almost useless as you may them receive hours, days or weeks late … or not receive them at all. So, you may never even know if your message has been received; far from ideal if you’re using SMS as part of your emergency mass notification service.

There’s an easy fix for this though – don’t use grey routing! As an OfCom registered telecoms company, Alert Cascade guarantees to only use white (i.e. legitimate) telecoms routing. We have direct links with the major UK networks, ensuring your messages are only ever sent through reliable, tier one connections. This guarantee is what allows us to give our customers a minimum uptime of 99.999%, and is why our customers are so confident in using our resilient SMS text messaging as part of their business continuity plan.


Myth number 2 – when SMS messages aren’t delivered, it’s tricky to find out why

As we established with Myth number 1, the problem here really isn’t SMS related – it’s cheap routing related. If you are using grey routing, there is no guarantee that you will get any kind of receipt back from the carriers involved, and even if you do get a receipt, there’s no guarantee that you will receive it in time for it to be of any use to you. What this means in layman’s terms is that you may send your business continuity message out to 100 staff via SMS text, but if you’re using grey routing, you may never know whether the message was delivered.

Alert Cascade SMS is guaranteed to run through white routes. This means that not only are we confident in delivering your message, we’re confident in telling you exactly what happened to your message and when. Our telco status also makes us different from our competitors – it means that when we tell you a message is delivered, we know it has been delivered to the individual handset, not just that the network has accepted delivery.

Message delivery statuses are available to all customers, all of the time, via our live reports dashboard. You can quickly and easily see whether messages are delivered (to the handset), pending (accepted by the network but not yet reached the handset), invalid (the phone number provided was invalid) or expired (if you set an expiration time and your SMS hasn’t been delivered by the end of that time, the message content will expire). Occasionally, we do still see the dreaded undelivered status, where the number provided is valid, the network has accepted the message, it’s been sat at pending for 48 hours but it hasn’t reached the handset. With our 99.999% SLA, the only time this happens is if the handset has been switched off or out of signal range for the entire 48 hour period.

So, if you use white routing, your message will be delivered. And if it hasn’t been, you will know whether that’s because the number is invalid, the message content has expired or the handset has been out of range for longer than 48 hours. Either way, it’s definitely not tricky to find this information!


Myth number 3 – SMS text messages are too short to be useful

The first SMS text message was sent on 3rd December 1992 (a 22 year old test engineer send “Merry Christmas” via the Vodafone network), and yes, at that time there were character limitations. And there still are character limitations today, depending on the handset you’re contacting and the region or network you’re working in. But let’s be realistic here – during a business continuity disruption, do you really need to send a message that’s longer than 1000 characters?

Alert Cascade SMS supports both the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) and Unicode character sets; GSM was developed for use in Europe and includes the letters A to Z, numbers 0 to 9 and symbols such as @, ?, !, & etc, whereas Unicode supports more complex characters such as the Cyrillic alphabet and the Chinese, Arabic and Thai languages. In January 2017, there was even a request to add Klingon to the Unicode Registry, so whatever language you use, you can send your message by SMS.


Myth number 4 – SMS text messaging can be expensive

Again, there is a grain of truth to this one, depending on your provider. If you’re being billed in arrears for your usage, you’re probably not getting the benefit of any bulk purchase discounts, whereas if you’ve pre-purchased an SMS bundle, your cost per message will be lower – a quick search of the internet will show you that if you buy a large enough bundle, you will pay around 3p per SMS text. That’s still not necessarily a comfortable position to be in though. When you’re dealing with an incident, the last thing you want to have to think about is “Do I have enough credit to send this message?”, or even worse, “What happens if I run out of credits part way through this incident?”.

Depending on the incident you’re dealing with, you may need to send one message to a select handful of people, or you may need to send numerous messages and updates to your entire staff headcount plus members of the public. From our point of view, the main point of a mass communication system is that you use it to communicate, and we don’t want to put hurdles in the way of you doing this. So, our business continuity pricing plans are all inclusive.

You pay your annual subscription fee for the platform, and the costs of your business continuity messaging are included within your subscription fee. This makes sense for you operationally as a customer (because now you’re free the use the platform whenever you need to without worrying about your budget), and it makes sense for us operationally as a provider (because now we’re free to focus our resources on support and development rather than monitoring usage and billing cycles).


Myth number 5 – SMS text messages are text only

Visual elements such as images, symbols, colours, fonts, tables etc are all great ways of conveying complex information to a diverse audience, and the phrase “SMS text” leads people to the natural conclusion that SMS messaging is all about the text content. Modern text messaging however, doesn’t have to rely just on traditional text content.

Our SMS for business continuity packages include the ability to add links to relevant documents, to create trackable web links, and to create surveys and forms to capture relevant data about the wellbeing of your contacts. Feature rich SMS enhances traditional text based content by helping you convey information in graphical format for a diverse contact list, provide additional instruction or detail via an infographic and consistently brand your messages so that contacts know it is a genuine alert.

Once you’ve got your audience’s attention by using an SMS that will be received by 95% of the population, read by 98% of the people who receive it, and opened by 90% of those people within three minutes, you can link out to somewhere more visually appealing and provide more detailed information.

So, you can benefit from the high open rates of SMS text messages and combine it with the complex visual elements usually found in emails by adding links and forms to your message … the best of both worlds.

So I’ll ask you again – why wouldn’t you use SMS texts as part of your emergency notification system?

For more information about Alert Cascade’s products and solutions, please contact the sales department:

Call: +44 (0) 1733 785999

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March 29, 2017

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