23rd July 2017

By Nigel Broomhall – Product Manager, GCI.

It’s been 25 years since the first SMS was sent over the UK Vodafone GSM network. Even then, that was from a computer as mobile phones didn’t have keyboards at the time. Understandably, it was slow to catch on. Three years after the first SMS, in 1995 people were still only sending on average 0.4 messages per month – 0.4, that’s pretty much zero! However, billing systems improved and handsets became easier to use. Not surprisingly the numbers started to rocket. We hit a peak in the UK of 39.7 billion messages in the fourth quarter of 2011 – that’s around 165 SMS messages ‘per mobile subscriber per month’.

Fast forward to 2017 and there are now many different options for sending messages. In a world dominated by the likes of WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook messenger (amongst others) you could be forgiven for wondering where SMS fits nowadays. This three-part blog series will answer all of these questions and more as we consider the past, present and future of SMS.

But, firstly, let’s look back and assess the fundamental strengths of SMS, most of which it retains today and that points to a continuing and important role for SMS in the mobile communications mix.

One of the original advantages of SMS was (and is) its ‘openness’. SMS is completely non-proprietary and ubiquitous. It works on every phone, everywhere and unlike the newer messaging platforms, no data connection is needed. It means that today, with a global population of 7.3 billion, that SMS can reach more than 6 billion people owning a mobile phone wherever they happen to be. That’s powerful stuff.

The statistics for SMS remain massive. Currently, around 20 billion SMS messages are sent daily – the equivalent of three for every person in the world every single day. What hasn’t changed with SMS over the years is its impressive engagement levels. According to the Mobile Marketing Watch, text messages have a 98% open rate compared to just 20% for emails. Similarly, just 12 per cent of Facebook posts and 29 per cent of Twitter posts get read.

Better still, most SMS messages are opened inside of just five seconds!

Whereas in the past most SMS messages have been peer-to-peer (ie: between friends and colleagues), in 2017 we are still only at the early stages of exploring what this might mean for the way organisations interact with their customers. But the appetite is growing rapidly. Put it this way, in April 2016 around 38% of contact centres offered SMS, but by the end of 2016 (only 8 months later) this figure had grown hugely to 61%. With more people texting than watching TV, reading newspapers, or buying magazines, businesses have a great opportunity to seize this trend to engage with customers and employees.

In our next blog, we will look at how organisations can leverage the SMS opportunity. We’ll highlight some examples of best practice where companies are truly engaging with their audience with precisely-timed campaigns. But, if you can’t wait until the next release learn more about GCI’s SMS services here: //… or please give us a call.

Nigel Broomhall is Product Manager for SMS & GSM at GCI.

He has a background in voice engineering and transitioned to developing SMS Solutions in 2012. He has developed SMS gateways for a wide range of sectors including legal, financial, debt management, transportation and the health sectors and has witnessed the business benefits first hand. He is working with other specialists at GCI to explore the potential for SMS in the Contact Centre and AI environments.