How to Choose your Bulk SMS Campaign Provider

Despite its simplicity and ubiquity, unlike P2P SMS, A2P SMS is quite complex to send, but before we get into that, let’s briefly explain the difference between P2P and A2P SMS. When you send an SMS from your mobile phone to a friend, that’s a person to person or P2P SMS, but when a company sends you an SMS, like your bank sending you a notification that your credit card was used, that’s an application to person or A2P SMS.

P2P SMS is quite straightforward because both you and your friend’s mobile phones are already registered on a mobile network (MNO), and most MNOs in the world are already connected to each other, so the SMS simply goes from one handset to its MNO to the other MNO and then to the other handset.

With A2P SMS, it’s a little different. Because the SMS is originating from an application; that application needs to be interconnected to the MNO on which the SMS recipient is registered. Because there are so many MNOs in the world, A2P Bulk SMS providers must have interconnection agreements between their SMS gateway and MNOs in the regions they serve. An interconnection agreement between an SMS provider and a mobile operator allows the SMS provider’s gateway to deliver an SMS to the handset of a subscriber of the MNO.

The number of interconnection agreements with MNOs that an SMS provider has in place define the bulk SMS provider’s coverage. Now that we mentioned coverage, lets briefly talk about it.

The first question to ask your SMS provider is about coverage, tell me about your direct coverage and network of MNO interconnections

There are two main types of connections that SMS providers maintain; direct and indirect connections. A direct connection is between the SMS provider’s gateway and the MNO whereas an indirect connection is through another SMS provider. For example, let’s say SMS provider A has a direct interconnection agreement with MNO X, and SMS provider B needs a connection with the same MNO. They could either seek a direct connection to MNO X or, usually faster and easier, get a connection with SMS provider A. That connection is an indirect one.

The problem with indirect connections is that they may take longer to deliver SMS, the SMS may leave from provider B’s gateway to provider A’s gateway, get stuck there, and never make its way to the MNO. It may leave SMS provider A’s gateway and head to the MNO and never make it to the handset. If the MNO returns a DLR (delivery report), it will be returned to SMS provider A – which may or may not return it back to SMS provider B (the original sender).

Other potential issues with indirect routes are grey routes and SS7 leaks. A grey route in the SMS industry is something to stay clear of, it is legal for the party on one end but may be illegal on the alternative end or may require multiple hops to reach the MNO. SS7 leaks are vulnerabilities in the international roaming infrastructure between all MNOs in the world that are exploited by dishonest SMS providers who claim free SMS or very cheap SMS. Naturally nobody will advertise grey routes or indirect routes, so caution must be made to choose a reputable SMS provider who maintains legitimate and direct MNO interconnection agreements in the countries you want your bulk SMS campaign to reach.

Think about it, MNOs get their revenue from voice, data, and SMS. P2P and A2P SMS are a source of revenue for MNOs, so naturally they sell their SMS for a fee – NOT for free, so when an SMS provider advertises free SMS (for the consumer), you get an idea of what kind of practices they use (that affect the enterprise).

Cequens takes pride in its network of direct MNO interconnectivity in the Middle East and Africa, we don’t advertise or care about the number of connections worldwide, we care about direct connections to operators in a specific region; the Middle East and Africa. We maintain interconnectivity agreements with local operators and regional telco hubs like Vodafone, Orange, Airtel, and Etisalat for example.

We look at countries in our served regions and connect directly to MNOs in that country. For example, Saudi Arabia is a key country in our target market with three operators; STC, Mobily, and Zain. Egypt is another key market also with three operators; Vodafone, Orange, and Etisalat. UAE has two operators; Etisalat and du.

Now let’s talk about SMS delivery quality, the most common indicator of quality for SMS providers is delivery rate, what percentage of their transmitted SMS are successfully delivered, and in how long?

The next question to ask your bulk SMS campaign provider is about delivery; tell me about your SMS delivery rate

SMS delivery rates in bulk campaigns varies drastically for a variety of reasons. The first reason is number portability, which is switching mobile service providers while retaining the same number. Number portability is an obstacle for SMS delivery because the transmitting SMS gateway does not know the correct MNO to send the SMS to.

Another reason delivery rates vary is the connection to the MNO. Obviously with direct coverage, the SMS travels a shorter distance and is delivered faster than in the case of indirect connections. Another reason delivery rates vary is delivery reports (DLRs), some MNOs support DLRs while others don’t. A DLR is a confirmation of SMS delivery to a specific number, this mini report is sent by the MNO to the SMS gateway to acknowledge delivery of an SMS. When an MNO does not support DLRs, the SMS gateway has no way of knowing if the SMS was delivered to the handset or not. Other reasons why SMS delivery rates vary include invalid numbers, Do Not Disturb lists, and local country laws.

Finally, some MNOs and countries charge subscribers a premium to receive SMS.

Tier 1 SMS providers like Cequens understand and comply with all applicable laws in the regions and countries they serve, and will help you plan your global SMS campaign effectively.

How does your bulk SMS provider handle number portability?

There are a few ways to identify ported numbers, the most common is by means of an HLR (Home Location Register) Lookup. An HLR is a number lookup service used to determine the MNO a number is registered to, it is also one way of validating phone numbers in a campaign. Another method of managing ported number is ENUM Lookup.

Cequens uses a proprietary combination of both HLR and ENUM Lookups to identify ported numbers and route them to the correct destination.

SMS Gateway Throughput and Latency: How long does it take SMS to pass through your SMS gateway?

An SMS gateway is a web server capable of sending and receiving SMS that is connected to a GSM SMSC (Short Message Service Center). The throughput of an SMS gateway depends on a variety of factors like network architecture, hardware configuration, software, and internet connection speed to name a few.

Understanding SMS gateway throughput and latency is a little complicated, but to simplify it, you want to know the average time it takes for the SMS gateway to process and begin transmitting an SMS, in Cequens and other Tier 1 SMS providers, this number is usually in milliseconds.

The entire Cequens SMS gateway and messaging platform is fully cloud hosted in Tier 1 datacenters with georedundancy and load balancing to ensure optimal delivery of your SMS campaigns. Most of our clientele are in the financial services industry where time of delivery is of the essence, an example of mission critical SMS are One-Time Passwords (OTPs) that have a short-lived validity period.

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