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Nexmo logoIn a mobile-first world, SMS is proving to be one of the most essential tools for businesses. From its critical role in communicating with customers globally to providing top security, this series produced by Nexmo explores key aspects of SMS that many organizations may be unaware of. See all the posts here.

It’s easy to understand why so many businesses depend on SMS to communicate with their customers. Global reach, 90 percent read rate, and extremely high customer engagement make SMS a quick and efficient way to deliver passwords, alerts, and notifications anywhere in the world.

But sending SMS globally can be tricky. Since it is nearly impossible to negotiate contracts with every Telco in the world, businesses who send messages through their systems generally end up working with an aggregator.

However, not all SMS aggregators work the same. Some rely on multiple middlemen to get your SMS to their destinations. Think of it as traveling internationally. You may want to fly from Los Angeles to London, but to save costs, the airline routes you through Chicago, and maybe New York, too.

In the SMS business, sending messages through multiple aggregators and middlemen is referred to as least-cost-routing (LCR). It might save you money, but LCR can also create unanticipated problems.

Delays, security issues and filtering

One of those problems can be unanticipated delays. The whole idea behind SMS is instant communication. But say your SMS goes through several other entities. Your message travels swiftly from your app to aggregator 1 (your vendor), then makes its way to aggregator 2 without issue, but aggregator 3 has a queue where your message is held for up to an hour. That’s not very instantaneous.

Another issue with the multi-hub structure is security. The way it works is each aggregator copies your message before passing it along to the next. The more hubs, the more copies of your business critical-communications, and the greater the risk of that information ending up in the wrong hands — something to think about when you’re sending out passwords or banking information.

Spam filtering in many countries is another issue. Some mobile carriers will block messages indiscriminately if your message contains certain words or phrases. For instance, in Romania, the carrier Orange will block any message with the word “orange” in it to prevent spam that may look like it might be coming from them.

Carriers in emerging countries also may send out false delivery confirmations. So even if your message was filtered, you may think it was delivered anyway.

Regulations and lack of actionable insights

There are over 190 countries in the world and thousands of mobile carriers. Both countries and carriers have their own guidelines and regulations for how and when messages can be sent. Keeping up with all of those SMS rules is next to impossible.

For example, India does not allow delivery of promotional SMS between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. And in Japan, some carriers do not allow businesses to send SMS messages that contain links. If you are sending an SMS that has a URL to Japan, your message is likely to get deleted. And if your message has just traveled through five different hubs to get there, you may never know what happened to it.

Which brings us to our final point: the inability to see what is happening with SMS messages leads to a lack of actionable insights. With legacy Telco structures, you don’t know what you don’t know. Did the message get delivered? Did it get delivered on time? If it didn’t get delivered, why not?

Additionally, each carrier has a different set of error codes. Different aggregators translate those codes differently. This makes it even more difficult to get accurate data on what happened to your messages.

Choosing an SMS vendor

When searching for a global SMS provider, it makes sense to find one that deals directly with the carriers. It may cost a little more, but you’ll want your messages to travel the most direct route as possible. The result will be decreased latency, higher security, and more actionable data.

Also, look for a provider that uses business intelligence to measure the quality of SMS routes. A good provider will test routes multiple times per hour to ensure a route has not lost its effectiveness. You also want a vendor with capabilities to reroute messages in real-time to maintain quality of service. Some vendors also offer advice on how to build a successful global SMS program. Nexmo, for example, has a country specific knowledge base telling you what to look out for in different countries.

Mobile and global is where the world is headed. SMS should be a reliable, business-critical solution that allows companies to engage with their customers — no matter where those customers are.

Dig deeper — Download the Nexmo whitepaper: Increase Security & Prevent Fraud by Overcoming the Top 7 Phone Verification Challenges.

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