2011 Is the year South African consumers become amongst the best protected in the world thanks to two important new laws. Far from seeing this as a threat, businesses should see this as a huge opportunity for improved customer communications, especially if they have SMS included in the mix. This is one of the main trends we predict for 2011.
1.Get your customer communications into gear
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) will be enforced this year. This piece of legislation dictates how and when companies may market to customers, including allowing them to opt out of communications. The second, the Protection of Personal Information Bill (PPIB) is expected to be promulgated into law this year. This looks at how organisations view, manage and use personal information and sets specific guidelines for how customers opt-in and opt-out of communications. As well as tightening up the legal details, these also allow for far harsher penalties for contravention.
Both apply to SMS, and in my opinion should be seen as an opportunity for companies. To ensure customers opt-in to communications, and then stay opted-in, companies will have to come up with creative ways to provide value to consumers and engage with them in a real conversation. The immediate and mobile nature of SMS makes this channel vital in both integrated campaigns, e.g. publishing a short code on a billboard to get customers to sign up for a campaign, or as a stand-alone channel, e.g. providing customers with information they need on the go, such as weather reports.
A word of warning though: companies should already be in the process of making sure their customer communications are in order, or risk simply being unable to contact a customer legally.
And a note to operators: the PPIB will require free opt-out messages be provided. Currently only Vodacom offers reverse-billed SMS, so the others will need to find a solution to this.
2.Smartphone growth on the up and up
Smartphone growth shows no sign of slowing down after stellar growth in 2010. Analysts seriously underestimated the public’s appetite for top-end phones, despite their price tags, and TomiAhonen calculates there was a 30% quarter-on-quarter growth in smartphone take up in the third quarter of 2010.
It is unlikely that this smartphone growth trend is going to taper off in the near future, especially with Google’s open-source Android platform dramatically lowering the cost of smartphones. South Africa currently has a 16% smartphone penetration, according to Gartner, which predicts this will rise to 80% by 2014.
SMS has an important role to play here, as a myriad of applications, particularly social gaming apps, incorporate SMS.
3.SMS is going to remain pivotal in publishing information
2010 Saw several governments, including India, Egypt and Mozambique limit SMS access during times of violence or political instability, such is the technology’s power to spread information. However, these shut downs didn’t come without cost, thanks to the extent to which SMS is embedded in our social fabric, specifically in the banking industry.
One of our favourite examples of how SMS can be used to publish information to the world is Ushahidi, developed to report on Kenyan election violence and now used worldwide to report on elections, political instability and natural disasters.
Privacy received a massive shake-up in 2010, thanks to Facebook and WikiLeaks amongst others, and I suspect this story is going to continue to play out for years to come. No doubt SMS, thanks to its ease of use and market penetration, is going to remain pivotal in the spreading of information at grassroots level and around the world.
4.Voice on the drop, SMS on the rise
This is a trend that has been emerging for some time, and is likely to continue and even escalate in 2011. In a world of information overload and constant demands for our time and attention, the asynchronous yet immediate, personal and mobile nature of SMS means it is favoured by consumers over other communication channels, especially voice.
For some time already voice volumes have decreased and SMS volumes have grown. And as more businesses realise the importance of SMS as a customer communication channel, this is going to continue.
This trend is borne out by international data. An August Washington Post article looks at how “the texting generation doesn’t share boomers’ taste for talk”. Latest Nielsen statistics report that in the US teenagers send on average 3,339 SMSs a month, with girls sending as many as 4,050 SMSs. This is an 8% rise from the previous year; while voice saw 14% drop in use over the same period. This increase in texting is consistent across all age groups.
5.South Africa leads mobile messaging regulation
While not perfect, the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) code of conduct has put South Africa at the forefront of the regulation of mobile messaging for some time. There are now plans afoot for it to be adopted by Namibia, Tanzania and Uganda As well as providing protection for consumers in these countries, this expansion of the code will focus efforts on tightening some of the loopholes that do exist.
Time and time again SMS is the technological exception to the rule. Not only is it incredibly resistant to downward price pressure, which has seen it immune to the dramatic price drops in the tech world over the last 10 years, it also refuses to be usurped by newer technologies.
A case in point is how SMS has been affected by the continuous rise of the smartphone over the last year. Despite the extended capabilities of smartphones, including cheaper communication options such as email and mobile instant messaging, SMS volumes have not been cannibalised nearly as much as predicted, and in some cases have even been boosted.
Smartphone penetration continues to grow at a rapid rate. Research house Gartner saw in excess of 81 million smartphones sold worldwide in quarter three, 2010, accounting for 19.3% of all mobile phone sales that quarter. This is a massive 93% increase from the same quarter in 2009. Closer to home, Gartner reports 16% smartphone penetration in South Africa at present, ramping up to 80% by 2014.
In October 2010 the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) predicted 6.1 trillion SMS messages would be sent last year. Portio Research forecasted earlier in the year that SMS traffic would exceed 10 trillion by 2013. ABI Research reported that there would be 4.2 billion users of SMS around the world in 2011.
Previously, there have been some dire predictions that SMS’s days are numbered thanks to the smartphone, and specifically because of an increased uptake in mobile instant messaging (MIM). A TNS survey in 2008 indicated that people who use MIM send 23 SMS’s per 100 messages they send. Compare this with non-MIM users who send 38 SMS’s per 100 messages they send. Let’s face it, this is a 40% drop. But what the survey doesn’t show is to what extent overall messaging has increased, which would reduce the real drop in SMS messages sent.
So why is SMS so persistent and resilient in the face of bright and shiny new ways to communicate?
SMS is ubiquitous and comes pre-installed on all phones – 4.2 billion people actively use SMS according to market watcher Tomi Ahonen. You know the recipient will be able to receive an SMS and be able to respond to you. Compare this to smartphones – according to research from online market company, Compete Inc, 27% of owners have never downloaded and installed an application, including MIM applications, on their smartphone.
In addition, the MIM market is highly fragmented and different platforms have different ways of identifying users – unlike SMS which only needs a cell phone number, which the user generally already has. Despite a couple of attempts to integrate various MIM platforms to produce a universal application, there is no real incentive to do this from the operators’ points of view, since so much revenue is being earned from SMS. Nor is there an incentive for individual MIM platforms to open up to others. Standing alone, the biggest MIM platforms are orders of magnitude smaller compared to the SMS platform in terms of the number of phones that run them.
There is no denying that MIM and specifically BlackBerry messenger and WhatsApp have a large and growing user base, but the impact on SMS will be far less than expected. In SA where MXit has a significant penetration, SMS is still widely used by MXit users.
User behaviour has a large role to play as well. In the same way that users are increasingly migrating from voice to SMS because of the asynchronous nature of SMS – although the communication is immediate, it is less disruptive and you can reply at your leisure – it is likely to also be a reason for users to prefer SMS to MIM for certain types of communication. The lower volume of SMS messages received makes it more effective as an alert and notification medium.
In addition, SMS has become an acceptable way to communicate with business contacts and people you don’t know that well. Even amongst die-hard MIM users, SMS is preferred when communicating with certain audiences. Likewise, while business communications via SMS have become acceptable, it is unlikely the average user would appreciate a company initiating a conversation with them via IM, or even dish out an IM username to a company, for that matter.
How will smartphones drive SMS use?
Ironically smartphones have also made it easier to send SMS’s, with QWERTY keyboards or touch screens, threaded conversations and other improvements to the SMS interface. In addition, we are seeing an increased demand for SMS from application developers – with SMS alerts vital to the set-up and function of many mobile applications. Social media platforms and couponing, both growing sectors, are also integrating SMS into their services.
Yet again, SMS, that accident of mobile technology, now in its 18th year, has proved resilient in the face of rapid and exciting communication technology advances and has earned its status as universal communications channel.
While email spam is very annoying, it has unfortunately become something that most of us live with. SMS spam on the other hand, while less pervasive than email spam, is often a very different matter, thanks to how attached we have become to our mobile phones, many of us having them close by 24 hours a day. It also poses a major threat to business communications via SMS and mobile voice calls.
If you thought SMS spam in South Africa has increased recently, you’d be right as recently reported by local research company Dashboard. This is for two primary reasons: local spammers are using international messaging routes to avoid WASPA (Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association) regulations; and WASPA is so overwhelmed by billing complaints that true spam is not receiving the attention it should.
In the first instance, the responsibility lies firmly on the shoulders of the local operators. Currently some local operators are unable to even trace spam messages from international sources after specific instances have been reported, let alone proactively block or filter these messages. International A2P spam can be identified, as local mobile numbers are often spoofed to disguise the international origin.
In the second instance, consumers need to correctly identify spam and be more proactive about reporting it to WASPA and escalating the matter. There are 300 million application-to-person (A2P) SMS messages sent every month in South Africa, yet there have been only 41 upheld spam related complaints in the last three years.
This sounds a bit low, right? But currently very few instances of true SMS spam are escalated to formal complaints with WASPA. Spam, or unsolicited messaging, is too often confused with unsolicited billing related to subscription services. This is currently the biggest problem in the mobile industry and responsible for more than 99% of the 120,000 – 150,000 monthly unsubscribe requests lodged with WASPA. The welcome and reminder messages associated with paid subscription services are often also perceived as spam, in those instances where consumers cannot recall that they subscribed in the first place. These volumes unfortunately overshadow the problem of spam, which needs to receive immediate attention.
The second thing to notice about the spam complaints that are upheld is that the vast majority originate from people working within the WASP and ICT industry. Those working in the industry are also more likely to escalate requests to formal complaints, as they know the rules and will not accept poor explanations for breaches. Very few consumers want the hassle of requesting a “formal” review, even though the process is pretty straightforward.
To combat SMS spam, it is necessary for the broader public to report it to WASPA and insist on a formal review where appropriate.
Examining the recent results of the WASPA complaints process can help shed more light on the matter.
As mentioned, 41 complaints involving unsolicited messaging were upheld, with the fines issued totalling R 1.4 million. Thirty complaints (73%) were related to premium rated mobile services, of which 10 (24%) involved adult spam. Interestingly the adult spam constituted 54% (R 756,000) of the total fines issued. It is clear that WASPA views unsolicited messaging that advertise adult content in a very serious light as it could end up on phones of minors.
There were only eight upheld complaints (20%) that involved unsolicited commercial messages sent by businesses. There were only three upheld complaints against the three top business messaging providers in three years.
The majority of WASPs sanctioned for spam, transgressed only once in three years. There were, however, three WASPs specialising in premium rated mobile content with five sanctions each.
There were no other known sanctions for SMS spam by another authority within the country within the same period. Currently the ECT (Electronic Communications and Transactions) Act and the CPA (Consumer Protection Act) still provide an opening for unsolicited electronic messages (CPA Section 11). Only once the PPI (Protection of Personal Information) Bill is enacted will unsolicited messages to non-clients become illegal, which is in line with the current WASPA Code of Conduct.
Tips for customers affected by spam
1.Always report spam
A single spam complaint against a business will seldom be escalated to a formal complaint with WASPA. It is too easy for the business to claim that a number was captured incorrectly. Multiple spam complaints, however, provide compelling evidence for WASPA to act on. It is therefore of utmost importance that there is a critical mass of the public reporting instances of SMS spam. Always ask WASPA if other complaints have been received, and if there have been you should insist on a formal complaint.
2.Adult content will always be acted on
In some cases a single complaint will be enough for WASPA to act on. For instance, a single instance of spam with adult content will be sufficient for WASPA to take action against a mobile content provider.
3.Other key contraventions
WASPA also takes a stronger stand in cases where businesses ignore opt out requests or requests about how they obtained the consumer’s number. In these cases a single complaint could be all that is needed and the consumer should insist on a formal complaint. This involves an investigation, adjudication and possible sanction for the WASP if reasonable steps are not taken to prevent this practice.
Tips for messaging providers/WASPs
1.The role of WASPs
Messaging providers, otherwise known as WASPs, have to take reasonable measures to prevent spam when it comes to messages originated by third party businesses.
2.WASPA Code of Conduct
WASPs have to ensure that their clients agree to abide by the WASPA Code of Conduct, which insists that businesses may only message non-clients if they can provide proof of explicit opt in. Therefore, best practice for businesses is to give new clients the opportunity to opt in for marketing communications. The new PPI bill will require that businesses give clients the option to opt out of marketing communications when they first provide their contact details.
3.Take spam seriously
Always investigate spam complaints. Ask the business where it obtained the number and what consent they have to communicate with it. If there is a problem, get the business to warrant that they will abide by the rules. If there is still no improvement, the WASP should suspend the service.
4.Auto opt out
WASPs should also implement an automatic opt out system on behalf of their clients. This provides a safety net for the consumer and ensures they are not contacted with unwanted messages even if the business doesn’t have its own opt out system. WASPA requires that opt out requests are always confirmed.
Mobile payments for mobile subscription services are receiving much news of late due to negative consumer sentiment over unsolicited billings.
An imminent change in the way that Vodacom customers sign up for third party mobile subscription services is good news for consumers and paves the way towards building increased confidence in mobile payments. Another important development is the recent law that states that mobile network operators should put in place the ability to block a handset from requesting any subscription services.
But with no official launch date yet from Vodacom, and no sign of the other mobile network operators following suit, it’s worth customers taking a look at how subscription services work, and which pitfalls to be aware of.
Mobile subscription services involve an ongoing charge on your cellphone account for a variety of third party mobile services. Consumers sign up for these services by responding to an advert, and sending a message to a shortcode, such as 31020. Alternatively, a consumer could be browsing the internet from their mobile phone, and then click on an advert for a service.
Of the several million South African cellphone users that are subscribed to mobile subscription services, as many as 150,000 subscribers request to terminate one or more subscriptions every month. Of these, 77% cannot recall that they subscribed in the first place. Instances of alleged fraudulent billing have been reported by the media.
Currently, some content providers (WASPs) have direct access to your money via your cellphone account, and also receive the cell phone numbers of visitors to their websites.
This means the network operators:
Are unaware of whether a WASP complies with the regulations until a customer complaint alerts them to questionable billing activity.
Have no audit trail on the subscription process for mobile browser initiated subscriptions – this is unacceptable given the customer has an ongoing relationship with the mobile operator, rather than the content provider.
In addition, mobile phone billing simply does not accommodate electronic charge backs in the same way a credit card service does. It also provides unclear billing details – with some network operators lumping all third party content services into one amount on statements, which is neither transparent nor useful for the customer.
Hopefully soon, Vodacom at least will take a more active role in the premium rate subscription billing process. Data belonging to customers who have subscribed to a service via a link or shortcode will go directly to the network operator. It will confirm pricing and terms & conditions; ensure the customer opts in twice; and, crucially keep a log of the details before passing the details on to the WASP for billing and content delivery.
This is an important change as it means the operator will have a full record of which services its customers have subscribed to. This means it will be able to prove whether or not a customer has signed up for a service. Previously network operators could do very little to help customers questioning a specific subscription– leading to much frustration and time wasting by consumers. Ideally operators should allow customers to check their mobile subscriptions from their handsets in the same way they check their account balances.
Of course theses changes won’t help if the original advert was misleading. So customers should still be careful about what they click on or sign up for, and actively complain to the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) if they have been misled by advertising.
There is no denying that the launch of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) “do not contact registry” to allow South African customers to permanently opt-out of all unsolicited marketing communications will be a massive step forward for consumer rights. But customers need to understand the limitations of the mechanism, and companies need to be ready to comply with the new law, especially smaller companies need to consider the implications of having to regularly query the database.
Thanks to the CPA, consumers will be able to add their contact details to the registry and so block direct marketing communications from all companies, even those that they might have previously given permission to contact them. But consumers need to realise that the registry is somewhat of a blunt instrument – once you have added your details, you would have to sign up again with companies that you do want to hear from.
The other warning for consumers is that, despite the CPA finally coming into effect on 1 April 2011, the development of the registry has only just gone out to tender. Building the registry is no small task, as it needs to allow companies to quickly query it on a regular basis, and a best guess is that it will take another one to two years to be set up.
Despite my comments about it being a blunt instrument, the registry is a vast improvement on the current system from a consumer’s point of view:
Currently the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) manages an opt-out list that only its members are obliged to comply with. Under the CPA, anyone marketing to a consumer has to comply.
While the DMA emails the list to its members – which is clearly a massive security risk - the CPA registry will keep the contact details secure. Companies will submit their lists to the registry and then be told who they can legitimately contact.
The DMA list only applies to third party lists, and not to companies that the customer initially gave their contact details to directly. The CPA registry will override previously given explicit consent to companies for direct marketing messages.
The CPA criminalises companies who spam consumers, whereas the DMA works on an industry regulation basis.
From an SMS point of view, the registry will go a long way to cutting down on SMS spam, but only for those on the registry. Recently spammers have been bypassing industry regulations such as the WASPA Code, by using international messaging routes. The CPA will apply to all companies including network operators, regardless of which messaging routes they use.
For those consumers not on the registry, the CPA provides no protection against spam or the buying and selling of their personal details. This will change once the Protection of Personal Information Bill (POPI) is enacted. The POPI Bill requires that businesses obtain personal details directly from the data subject. Companies may not obtain personal details from third parties unless they have the explicit consent of consumers to do so.
Companies should be gearing up to comply with the CPA once the do not contact registry becomes available.
But smaller companies who can’t afford the financial and operational overheads of querying the database themselves need to tread carefully. Companies that do not query the registry will be unable to legally send direct marketing communications to their own customers even if they have received consent, because according the law, if a company doesn’t check the database, it has to assume that everyone is registered on the do not contact registry, and the registry overrides explicit consent previously given.
A solution for these companies is to take advantage of a third party channel that does interrogate the do not contact registry. Businesses should ensure that the WASP they choose to send SMS communications does check the registry once this becomes available, and be sure they are complying with the law.
So smaller companies do have alternatives to the overheads of querying the registry themselves or face a marketing channel being unavailable to them. Of course, at the end of the day, playing by the rules is better for the consumer and the efficacy of companies’ marketing messages.
Here at BulkSMS.com we speak a lot about the importance of having mobile included in your marketing mix, and especially SMS thanks to its reach, pervasiveness and acceptance by consumers across all demographics. We remind marketers to include mobile marketing at the planning stage to maximise the benefits of the channel, and not simply tack it on at the end.
That’s all very well, but what are the next steps? How do you effectively use SMS to bridge the gap between offline marketing activities and online, permission-based engagement with your customer base? How do you harness the reach of mobile marketing to feed your CRM database and springboard into ongoing engagement across multiple channels?
This article takes a look at how you can deploy mobile marketing in a retail context, specifically using SMS shortcodes, to elevate your marketing efforts from passive interaction to true customer engagement.
Shortcode shortcuts your acquisition path
SMS shortcode campaigns are one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to transform a static channel such as a point-of-sale promotion, in-store posters or on-pack special offers into the start of an immediate conversation with the customer. Grab the customer on the spot when they literally have the product in their hand and allow them to enter a competition, access a discount on the product, give their feedback or sign up for future value – all via an SMS shortcode and keyword.
You’ll have gained quite a lot from that simple SMS: the customer’s cell phone number, product information (e.g. the barcode of the product they are buying) and other information such as their names. This is a very valuable kickstart to profiling your customers and beginning to market to them using appropriate channels and messages.
Don’t forget to send a response to the SMS immediately with a thank you. Customers expect it and appreciate it, and if you design your campaign cleverly you can use this as an opportunity, if you haven’t already, to get permission to continue communicating with the individual.
Remember though, you need to get explicit approval for each communication channel. The Consumer Protection Act is going to enforce that you need to be able to show evidence of the client opting in for marketing communications. The good news is that by using a shortcode, you’ll have this data archived automatically.
Please also follow the WASPA (Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association) guidelines on how to present the cost of the SMS and the terms and conditions of the promotion. It’s important to abide by the regulations to avoid sanction, and you’ll also create a safe environment where the customer can confidently interact with you, with full knowledge of the costs of engagement and how their information will be used.
Finally, SMS shortcode campaigns are highly scalable and easily ramped up or down according to your budget and requirements. Make sure your SMS shortcode provider offers you a free reply SMS per incoming message – this allows you to reply to the customer as a matter of course and not worry about chalking up a large bill. SMS shortcode campaigns can be effectively used by a mom and pop store right up to a nationwide brand.
Activating retail campaigns
In the retail context, SMS activated campaigns have been successfully deployed for well-known household name brands by Habari, a below-the-line marketing agency. By incorporating best practice mobile marketing strategies, Habari enabled on-pack promotions that used SMS competitions, complementary brand incentives, or channel tie-into stimulate customer engagement and retail sales.
In store-promotions were used to point customers to specially-marked products which incentivised them to send an SMS to a shortcode and enter into a competition to win a prize that matched or complemented the product on offer to build the brand. An alternative strategy was to run SMS campaigns that were specific to the retail chain where a customer shopped. This not only created channel tie-in but allow a brand to understand consumer purchasing behaviour. In each case, the aim was to convert a purchase into an on-going customer interaction using the mobile channel.
Noting these examples, with some planning and a clear idea of the information you would like to capture and how you plan to continue engaging with customers, SMS shortcode promotions and competitions are an immensely effective customer acquisition tools and ways of kick-starting campaign engagements.
Today the early warning for a government in trouble seems to be when the rulers in question clamp down on electronic communication, especially Social Media and SMS. We’ve seen it happen across the African continent and further afield, starting with Mozambique and India in 2010, and then this year in Egypt, Tunisia and Cameroon. In fact Ethiopia got the ball rolling back in 2005, with a two-year SMS ban after election violence.
According to the sociologist Manuel Castells author of Communications Power (2009), “The roots of rebellion lie in exploitation, oppression and humiliation. However, the possibility of rebelling without being quashed immediately depends on the density and speed of mobilisation and that depends on the ability created by the technologies which I have classified as mass self-communication.”
Modern communications allows each individual to broadcast information via a variety of media, in this way routing around any blocks in the system.
We saw this with the birth of Ushahidi during the Kenyan elections in 2008 when the government banned broadcasting. Ushahidi used SMS to collect information from people on the ground, which it then compiled and distributed via the internet to create a coherent picture of events. When internet access was disrupted in Egypt, Google launched a “speak-to-tweet” service that allowed Egyptians to tweet by leaving a voicemail.
So for non-democratic governments, anything short of a total ban on communications is ineffective because information will find a way to flow. But thanks to the extent to which electronic communications underpins both business and society, an outright ban would cripple a country. Banking would fail, orders would not be processed and billing would be impossible. In fact, the entire business environment of any country depends on electronic communication.
Ironically governments often raise awareness of electronic communication as a tool for activism by trying to control it. In Cameroon, the Biya regime banned MTN from offering an SMS-to-Twitter service in March in an attempt to prevent Egypt-style protests it claimed were being incited from abroad. However, according to reports, most Cameroonians were unaware the SMS-to-Twitter service even existed before the ban, and the ones who did were using it for IT or agriculture-related services.
At Davos earlier this year, underlining the significance of the bans on electronic communication, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, accused the Egyptian government of treading on the democratic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of association when it cut internet access ahead of planned protests.
Electronic communication, in all its shapes and guises, is here to stay. Information continues to be the lifeblood of business, society and government around the world. The fact that undemocratic governments continue in their attempts to control this medium, despite the economic costs, is testimony to the political power of electronic communications, especially SMS and Social Media.
SMS is the perfect emergency communications channel, right? People always have their phones with them, especially in an emergency; you can easily send one message to a number of people; and you can text when you can’t talk.
Indeed, just over an hour after the earthquake in Christchurch struck earlier this year, Vodafone New Zealand sent out the following message: “There is heavy congestion on the network and we encourage people to text rather than call in order not to overload the network and to preserve their phone’s battery life.”
In many countries, SMS is even being considered by the authorities as an alternative emergency channel which the public can contact, equivalent to 911 in the U.S. and 10111 in South Africa.
On the other hand, a 2008 report from 3G Americas notes that there are serious limitations on using SMS for emergencies, especially in the form of third party Emergency Alert Systems (EAS). When sending out communications these limitations include: that cellular networks have not been designed to cope with emergency-scale traffic volumes via SMS, targeting users by location is difficult, and there is no way to authenticate a message.
So which is it? Does SMS have a critical role to play in emergency communications or not?
I’d argue that of course it does, but only with careful planning and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
There is no denying that having access to more information during a crisis is a good thing. Take a look at the real-time information the world received of the earthquake in Japan earlier this year and the orderly way in which the Japanese population has responded to the disaster. Compare this to the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake in Tokyo, where rumours circulated that Koreans were taking advantage of the situation, committing arson and robbery. This unfortunately resulted in xenophobic attacks by the Japanese on the Koreans because there was no way to verify or refute the word-of-mouth information or to share accurate information. The importance of obtaining and providing accurate information following natural disasters has been emphasized in Japan ever since.
For the reasons mentioned above, SMS should certainly be included in any emergency communications plan, both for communicating with the general public, as well as with the media and volunteer emergency responders. Depending on the nature of the emergency, however, SMS should be used as appropriate to the situation.
When in a disaster it is critical that unnecessary load on a network is reduced to allow critical communications to get through. A person trapped should not get a ‘network busy’ signal when trying to alert rescuers to his/her location.
For instance, in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the university realised that the shootings took place over a two-hour period and more should have been done to keep students away from the campus. After the event, a number of third-party SMS services were touted as the answer to the problem. But in a geographically concentrated area an attempt to SMS all students and staff would have congested the single cell tower covering the area, preventing vital information from being transmitted.
In a case such as this one, a system of tiered communication would need to be set up, perhaps informing faculty heads, heads of residences and other community leaders, who could then pass the information on via other channels. Students and those affected should be told to SMS a single family member outside the area who can then pass the message on.
During a more geographically dispersed event, it would be more feasible to communicate with larger numbers of people and also target the people in immediate danger, for instance during a flood or wild fires. Load testing should be done to understand the capacity of the network when using a third party EAS and these services should certainly not be blindly bought without careful consideration. This sort of planning does not take place in the middle of an emergency though, and preparation and education should be done for both man-made and natural emergencies.
Don’t forget to combine SMS with other channels though. Twitter especially has proven its value during a crisis, both in terms of keeping the media up to date with what is happening on the ground and alerting rescue services to people in danger. A year ago Haitian DJ Carel Pedre famously saved the life of a buried earthquake victim by tweeting his location, which was picked up by rescue teams monitoring Twitter.
Cell broadcast technology is another channel to consider adding to the mix. The US will launch a pilot service in New York and Washington later this year that sends messages to subscribers within a certain area via this technology. Although limited by handset and network operators, this is a good way to quickly reach a group of people within a specific area in an emergency. Unlike an SMS, the message is delivered to the handset’s screen. In addition, cell broadcast technology uses very little bandwidth. However it does not allow inbound messaging or responses.
In conclusion, as with so many technical solutions to human problems, there is not a silver bullet solution to EAS. But neither does it make sense to dismiss SMS as an important component of an effective, carefully planned, emergency communications strategy.
As we’ve started to see in South Africa and across the rest of the continent, the potential for mobile-enabled healthcare is enormous. Evidence from the GSMA Mobile Health Summit held in Cape Town at the start of June shows that mobile operators are currently leading the pack in this space. Going forward, however, it is vital that the balance of power shifts from the mobile industry to the healthcare sector, to allow the burgeoning mHealth sector to reach its full potential.
For the moment it is appropriate that mobile operators drive mHealth initiatives in order to demonstrate to the healthcare sector what can be done if they tap into the power of mobile. Partnerships between operators and the healthcare industry to develop mHealth applications will act as a catalyst for this new industry.
But a partnership-based approach is not enough in the long run. The strategy of some mobile operators to own all mobile applications at all costs could stifle innovation. Furthermore, mobile operators can only partner with a handful of parties, yet there are hundreds of healthcare application developers who could add value to the ecosystem. In order for mobile-enabled healthcare services to reach their potential they need to work on any network, anywhere in the world. Developers in the healthcare industry need to be able to build network-agnostic applications that can be bought off the shelf and deployed in any country.
With this in mind, mobile operators should provide access to mobile communication channels such as SMS and use open standards to enable connectivity to their networks. The operators must not lose focus of their core business, which is to provide reliable and cost effective mobile communications with maximum reach.
Reaching all devices
The opportunities for mHealth extend all the way from straightforward phone calls and SMSs to the potential afforded by smartphones, which have all the power and connectedness of computers as well as all the advantages and features of mobile devices.
But as has been so often the case in the mobile industry, innovation is likely to emerge in the developing world. There are a number of reasons for this, including the over-regulation of the developed world’s healthcare industry making innovation a very slow and tedious process. In addition, with a single doctor to every 55,000 people in Africa, compared to one doctor per 200 people in the USA, there is the immediate drive to extend the reach of available medical care in the developing world via mobile technology.
Where extended reach to a great population dispersed over a large area is key, as it is in the developing world, SMS services provide the solution. This is why there are already a number of well-documented examples of SMS being used to remind patients, especially those suffering from HIV/Aids or tuberculosis, to take their medication regularly and continually.
SMS communication also plays a key role in ensuring at-risk babies are tested for HIV at the appropriate time and then receive medication immediately if necessary. SMS is also used in healthcare logistics to prevent stock-outs by reminding pharmacies to submit stock counts timeously.
In the pharmaceutical sector, a company called Sproxil is tackling the problem of counterfeit drugs in Africa with SMS. Counterfeit TB and malaria drugs cause up to 700,000 deaths a year in Africa, but by having consumers confirm the authenticity of the drugs they receive by SMSing a unique product ID to a shortcode many lives are being saved. The company said it helped legitimate drug companies to increase their sales by 10%, clawing back the business from counterfeiters.
Because it is easier to innovate in the healthcare space in the developing world, emerging markets are going to quickly leapfrog technologies available to patients in the developed world and provide practical, cost-effective mHealth services.
Opening up access to mHealth
With the potential for innovation in the mHealth sector, the industry needs to evolve from one of partnership with operators to being led by the healthcare industry and application developers, who have industry-specific experience. In the SMS messaging space, this is possible through the role wireless application service providers (WASPs) play in providing developers of mHealth solutions with access to more than 800 mobile networks around the world. A vibrant, competitive WASP environment is key to the maturation of the mHealth sector.
By Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com
It seems a bit crazy to call a technology that is coming up for its twentieth birthday a “veteran”. But if you consider the massive explosion of digital communications technology over the past few years, you start to realise just how long SMS has been around for.
Not only that, but SMS has also proved to be an amazingly adaptable technology. For instance, it has often been predicted that the rise of the smartphone would be the death of SMS. Quite the contrary, however: a survey from social communications agency CloudTalk showed that text messaging was the number one activity Americans used their smartphones for, with voice calling in fourth place.
Indeed, ABI Research reported that there were 4.2 billion users of SMS globally at the end of last year, and Portio Research predicts a massive eight trillion SMSs will be sent in 2011, up from 6.9 trillion in 2010.
There are a number of reasons for SMS’s amazing staying power, and I’d argue that top amongst them are its ubiquity; the fact that it is an asynchronous communication channel; and its robustness.
SMS is an open standard that was accepted by and included in the GSM cellular standard. This means that every GSM cell phone has to support SMS. In addition, due to SMS’s popularity, even the competing cellular technology, CDMA, has incorporated SMS. (And if you remember the almost religious wars between GSM and CDMA in the early 2000s, you’ll realise what an achievement this is.)
Because SMS is an open standard, it is not linked to one organisation in the way that communications such as Facebook, Twitter and even Skype are. If anything is a certainty in this day and age, it’s that nothing is certain when it comes to social media. Look at the demise of Myspace – once the king of all social networks. So for consumers and businesses alike, SMS’s ubiquity reduces the concern that it might one day simply “go away”.
Another result of SMS’s ubiquity is that it is linked to a person’s cell number, rather than another naming convention like a username. So if you have the cell number for a person, you know that you can reach them via SMS and that they can immediately read your message, without any complicated set-up.
As the CloudTalk survey shows, people are talking less and using asynchronous communication channels such as SMS and instant messaging more. This has a lot to do with the increase in information and communication we have to deal with every day, especially thanks to an increase in cheap communication channels. We are no longer prepared to interrupt whatever we are doing to accept a call, for instance. Even voicemail is beginning to be seen as an intrusion, with more people requesting an SMS rather. SMS however, offers the two-way nature of a real-time interaction but allows each party to respond in their time.
SMS uses the same signalling systems that are used to set up calls over mobile networks. In addition, there is no denying it is an expensive communication channel compared to some others, which helps keep volumes down. This means it can be used for mission-critical communications, such as banking alerts, or emergency notifications. SMS does not need internet access to work, and oftentimes even when calls cannot go through in a low coverage area, an SMS can be sent and received.
Businesses also need a stable technology, for example, to inform their customers that their car is ready for collection after a service; or to make sure marketing communications are sent out at the right time of the day, to the right people; or to allow customers to opt in to communications at the point of sale or other brand engagements.
In addition an eco-system of application-to-person (A2P) bulk SMS providers has emerged. These service providers both ensure a certain level of quality of SMS routes, and can effectively integrate bulk SMS services into existing business systems, providing an easy-to-use service plus reporting and other administration functions. Juniper expects A2P SMS messaging to overtake person-to-person SMS by 2016.
So while SMS might not be seen as user-friendly or feature-rich as some of the newer communication channels that have sprung up recently, its ubiquitous and robust nature will see it win time and time again.
The Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Bill is at serious risk of being watered down to such an extent that it is rendered ineffective and meaningless when it comes to preventing consumers from receiving email and SMS spam.
The Bill, which has been under discussion since 2009, sets out to establish the minimum requirements for the lawful processing of personal information, i.e. how it is captured, processed and stored by organisations, and gives citizens legal recourse should their personal information be abused.
Key to the efficiency of the POPI Bill is that it is established on a customer opting in to receive direct marketing communications from companies, rather than opting out of communications, as is currently the law under the ECT Act and the Consumer Protection Act. Unfortunately, careful study of the latest draft of the Bill and a comparison with the equivalent 1995 European Union Data Protection Directive shows that the implementation of the opt-in principle in the POPI Bill is not nearly as strong as it needs to be. The EU Directive is clearly the basis for the South African Bill, with word-for-word copy-and-paste similarities, so any differences between the two documents are extremely revealing about the intentions behind POPI.
I am specifically concerned with the wording of section 10(1) in the 2011 draft POPI Bill and sub-section 10(1)(f) in particular. This section details the circumstances under which personal information may be processed.In the POPI Bill it reads as follows:
Processing is necessary for pursuing the legitimate interests of the responsible party or of a third party to whom the information is supplied.
The equivalent sub-section (f) of the 1995 EU Directive provides that personal data may only be processed if:
Processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the controller or by the third party or parties to whom the data are disclosed, except where such interests are overridden by the interests for fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require protection under Article 1.
Section 10(1)(f) of the POPI Bill has quite clearly been materially copied from the EU Directive, but with a significant omission. The EU law balances the legitimate interests of an organisation with the fundamental rights of the individual – in this case article 1 refers to their right to privacy with respect to the processing of personal information. The South African draft does not balance the rights of the company with individual rights.
This is problematic as it sets a far lower barrier for companies capturing personal information. It is likely that direct marketers will regard the collection of consumer data as a legitimate business interest, especially since section 66(2) gives them the right to contact any consumer at least once. This potentially opens the door for companies to scrape the internet for any personal details – irrespective of the reason the details were published by the individual in the first place. So, the classified advert you placed to sell your car that included a cell number and email address could result in your details being added to a direct marketing list.
In 2009, the South African Law Commission produced an 860-page report on the draft Bill in which it states that it should be considered illegal to collect personal information from the internet without the individual knowing. Unfortunately, if the revised 2011 wording of the Bill stands, those original intentions are now going to be of little value when the Bill becomes law.
This is especially alarming when one looks at another dilution of the POPI Bill that I have mentioned above and highlighted previously. Possibly as a result of lobbying by direct marketers, an additional clause was added to the Bill that allows companies to approach non-clients via an unsolicited email or SMS, and ask them if they would like to receive future marketing communications, thus building an opted-in database.
This is concerning because it begs the question where the company got the contact details in the first place. Also, it would be very easy to include a marketing message in the initial communication. Finally, what is to stop a company changing its identity and simply sending the message again in another guise? If the customer gives consent in the first place, then the original wording of the Bill - before this addition was made - is enough to both protect consumers and allow business to continue with legitimate direct marketing to non-customers.
Around the world it is considered best practice to base direct marketing on robust opt-in principles. In my opinion the EU Directive hits the nail on the head, and both the UK and Australian Direct Marketing Associations’ guidelines support opt-in principles. Spam simply does not make sense: at best, your message will be ignored, but more than likely your business will be named and shamed publicly thanks to the rise of social media.
I’d urge those drafting the POPI Bill to revisit the Law Commission report, remind themselves of the original intentions of the Bill, and redraft the relevant sections accordingly. Businesses and consumers need to become aware of the implications of the latest changes to the Bill as it winds its way towards becoming law.
By Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com
While a cat has nine lives, it seems that SMS has an infinite number of lives. So while the rise in mobile instant messaging (MIM) has been heralded as its end, a closer look shows that this rather increases SMS’s value in the corporate space.
It was Blackberry and its ostensibly free messaging service between Blackberry users that changed the game when it comes to MIM. Despite being bumped down the ranks in terms of the number of handsets shipped in the second quarter according to the latest analyst reports, Blackberry is still the number one smartphone in South Africa and Indonesia. Mobile market commentator, Tomi Ahonen, reminds us that initially Blackberry’s popularity baffled the company itself, until they realised that it was the Blackberry instant messenger (BBM) that was the driver of this uptake. It also resulted in continued uptake of the handset as friends and family migrated to Blackberry for fear of being left out of closed conversations.
Subsequently, application developers have allowed other handset owners to join this low data cost instant messaging conversation via apps such as WhatsApp. With all these people sending fewer text messages, one might think that this has left SMS messaging out in the cold.
In the world of business SMS communications this is not at all the case. There is no denying that personal SMS usage has dropped, thanks to cellphone users migrating to mobile instant messaging (MIM) at a fraction of the cost of SMS. This is hurting the network operators, for whom person-to-person (P2P) messaging is a very profitable channel. But SMS’s inherent features still give it an edge in application-to-person (A2P) messaging, especially when it comes to urgent or emergency communications, business communications, or managing the information overload.
SMS benefits from MIM
So while the popularity of MIM might be bad news for operators in terms of lost SMS revenue – which they are trying to mitigate with SMS bundles for users – it is good news for companies and organisations that rely on SMS for alerts, emergency communications, CRM and a host of other uses. The SMS channel is strengthened for mission-critical notifications, whether it is a banking alert, appointment reminder or progress update. Already IM users are switching off the beeping associated with incoming instant messages as it is unnecessary during a conversation. The rather ironic result is that SMS is used as an alert to set up an IM conversation.
SMS is ubiquitous
Companies have dabbled with other online channels but they are going to be hard-pressed to insist that customers download an individual app in order to communicate with each company. SMS, which is already built in to every single featurephone and smartphone handset, is going to remain the communications channel of choice for companies and customers for some time to come.
Ease of integration
Likewise from a software development point of view, it takes time and effort to integrate a new channel into software, so it is wise to choose a stable technology. With the MIM market still relatively new and very fragmented, there is only one choice for a developer wanting to include mobile messaging into an application, and that is SMS.
Managing information overload using asynchronous communication
As SMS is a sender pays technology, and relatively expensive, it limits information overload.
SMS is less intrusive compared to a phone call, as it allows the recipient to respond in their own time.
So rather like Mark Twain insisting that “the report of my death was an exaggeration” when it was mistakenly believed he had died, it turns out SMS continues to demonstrate the value of its inherent characteristics in the face of the latest communication favourites.
SMS has shown its ability to act as a catalyst for social change time and time again. From farming, to healthcare, to education and banking, the ease with which information can be accessed and shared via SMS has levelled the playing fields for marginalised members of society around the world.
Increasingly this applies to employment as well. With the addition of SMS as a recruitment channel, candidates without internet access – especially those based in more rural locations in South Africa – finally get the same opportunity to apply for jobs. This is vitally important in a country with a 24% unemployment rate according to Stats SA. The good news for employers is that SMS can make their recruitment process more streamlined, more efficient, faster and cheaper.
Previously a candidate would have to spend time and money getting online at an internet café, applying for the job online or printing and posting their CVs. They would then have to weigh up the opportunity costs of travelling some distance for an interview for a job that they may or may not get.
On the flipside, companies would get thousands of CVs in differing formats, and have to wade through them in an attempt to sift out the suitable candidates for an interview.
Now, a candidate can simply reply to a short code published in a job advert in a newspaper or elsewhere, and immediately be sent a range of questions via SMS to determine whether or not they are suitable for the role. In a country with 10% internet penetration but with more than 100% mobile penetration, the candidate will definitely have access to a cellphone, even if they don’t own one themselves. This places them on a level footing with candidates anywhere else in the country, it is cheaper for the candidate (and the company) and shortens the interview process.
According to the Gauteng Provincial Government, which has been recruiting via SMS since 2007, its system costs the candidate R7.50 per application, substantially less than the previous system that cost candidates up to R50.
Candidates need to be warned, however, of scammers who use fake job ads to defraud people. Typically they would use a pricey premium rate shortcode in the advert, and then once the candidate has applied via SMS, insist on additional premium rate messages or other payments to proceed. The rule of thumb for candidates is that employers should pick up the bulk of the cost of the application process. They should be sceptical of anyone who demands money upfront, and should always do some research into a company.
SMS recruitment is especially suited to companies needing to hire large numbers of entry-level employees on a regular basis. For instance, Capitec Bank copes with in excess of 60,000 job applications a year using txthire, an SMS recruitment application developed by Graylink. Capitec captures biographical data and minimum requirements via a series of SMS questions. The data is captured in a way that makes it easy to be reviewed and shared with business units using existing back-end tools. The bank said using SMS for recruitment has halved the time it spends on screening candidates and vastly improved its accuracy.
As well as recruiting large numbers of employees, especially in lower LSM ranges, SMS recruitment is ideal for managing a large, mobile, semi-permanent workforce. For instance, Sanctuary Personnel in the UK uses SMS to manage its pool of temporary social workers. Communicating by SMS allows the agency to match vacancies with candidates at short notice, or when they are not in front of a computer.
Similarly, closer to home, Topco, a modelling and talent agency, uses SMS to place talent at short notice or while they are on set and away from their computers.
Companies wanting to incorporate SMS into their recruitment processes can use a PC to SMS messaging application, or turn directly to a mobile messaging aggregator for easy integration with their existing systems.
The bottom line is, both in South Africa and around the world SMS is the only data channel that can level the playing field for job seekers.
By Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com
The latest South African crime statistics for 2010/2011, could probably best be summarised as “improving, but could do better”. While there have been reductions in the murder and attempted murder rate, assault, robbery and attacks on policemen - fighting crime should still be at the top of South Africa’s agenda.
With SMS being so suited to sending alerts quickly and easily to a group of people, its capability and usefulness as a crime fighting tool is not to be under-estimated. Probably the best-known application of SMS in the fight against crime in South Africa is Primedia’s Crime Line, an anonymous crime tip-off line via SMS that has made 1, 106 arrests and R39, 579 928 in seizures since its inception on the 6th June 2007.
The success of using SMS for tip-offs about a crime that has taken place is thanks to the fact that nearly everyone has a phone and is able to use SMS. People can send a tip-off immediately and discreetly when they witness a crime, wherever they are, and remain anonymous.
As well as tip-offs, however, SMS is ideal for quickly sharing important information with a number of people which can be effective in keeping people safe, preventing crime or apprehending criminals. Neighbourhood watches, security estates, schools and any other communities can quickly alert their members to dangerous situations. They can also gather information from members of the community to allow police services to respond faster.
Nico Nel, the past Chairman of the Linbro Park Community Policing Forum in Sandton , Gauteng, has no doubt about the effectiveness of SMS in fighting crime. “We originally subscribed to BulkSMS.com to communicate with the Domestics for the Domestic Watch programme run by Making a Difference with Penny Steyn. Our Domestics receive a crime fighting lesson from her, once a month and Penny is now using the system to alert and remind Domestics to attend her lessons throughout the Johannesburg region – some 3,000 a month! SMS is the most effective method of keeping in touch with the part of a Community that does not have access to email,” he says.
In terms of crime in Linbro Park, “Crime in Linbro Park is down to its lowest level in 20 years,” he continues. “We used to have between three and seven armed robberies a month and at one stage that many in a week. In the past 30 months we have had virtually none. SMS is integral to our fight against crime. We now pay a reward of a R30 recharge voucher for each crime tip-off, or more, according to the circumstances. This has made Linbro Park a place where criminals have no place to hide. We then react, where applicable, by sending bulk SMS messages to alert the Community, including our domestics”.
Linbro Park Community Policing Forum uses SMS messaging to alert the community to a crime in progress, and says that they have caught criminals red-handed on more than one occasion as a result of these SMS alerts. “Bulk SMS is particularly effective because it is quick to use and the delivery of messages is virtually instantaneous, whereas SMSing to various individuals from your cellphone is quite slow,” says Nel.
Community-based security via SMS can take several forms, from informing all households of a crime; to having mobile members of the community such as estate agents, plumbers and so on share information; to communicating with more formalised neighbourhood watch organisations and the police.
In Linbro Park, on receiving a crime alert, members of the community have pre-determined duties – some will man access points to the suburb to prevent criminals fleeing, others with trauma training go to the scene to render medical and other assistance, others will patrol streets on the lookout for criminals. All keep a watch for any presence of the criminals in the suburb.
In these contexts it is vital to manage the flow of information while ensuring the information is accurate. Two key considerations are that an SMS alert doesn’t cause panic or incite vigilante activity. Using a bulk SMS system, it is possible to ensure that information is shared from a central community safety hub, whose responsibility is to check the accuracy of any information they receive from members of their community. With a SMS messaging solution, the hub is able to send out messages to predetermined groups of contacts within the community, for example, neighbourhood patrol leaders. The community should be educated about what is expected of them when they receive an SMS alert that is crime related, in order to avoid them being placed in danger.
So while there has been talk of the South African government banning communications technology such as Blackberry messages for security reasons, and both BBM and SMS has been temporarily banned in several countries around the world during times of civil unrest, the crime-fighting power of technologies such as SMS should not be overlooked.
The Santa Shoebox Project, which annually organises Christmas gifts from members of the public for underprivileged children, has grown from 180 Santa Shoeboxes in 2006, to a whopping 70,200 gifts collected from 36 locations in 2011. Along with this growth has come a range of logistical challenges so this year the organisers put SMS to the test to aid communication with its donors.
One of the biggest challenges the Santa Shoebox team faces is ensuring that after the donors pledge their gift boxes, they deliver them to the right place on the right date. Each donor pledges a gift box to a specific, named child, so any no-shows have to be made up at the last minute or else a child will miss out.
Typically Irenè Pieters, national co-ordinator for the Santa Shoebox Project, sees a shortfall of between 10-30% of the pledged gift boxes. This year, thanks to a donation of SMS messages by BulkSMS.com, Pieters was able to SMS reminders to donors in major centres in advance to the drop-off, and then send targeted SMS reminders to the no-shows, anywhere in the country, dramatically reducing the no-show rate.
“The result was absolutely amazing,” said Pieters. “Being able to get a direct message that was read straight away, to the donors considerably increased the number of gift boxes delivered.”
After the first drop off date in October this year, 30% of Johannesburg donors had yet to deliver their gift box. After a targeted SMS reminder was sent to the no shows, this dropped to around 12%. In Cape Town, where the Santa Shoebox Project started and home to the biggest collection points with 31,500 gift boxes pledged in total, the no show rate was reduced from 10% to 6%. And Pietermaritzburg, a new participant in 2011, initially saw only 44% of donors deliver their boxes, and this was increased to 68% after the SMS message went out.
Pieters simply integrated the BulkSMS.com service with her existing email contact lists and was able to immediately target the same groups. “SMS is a stronger direct message than email. They are read immediately which makes a huge difference. The ability to target and personalise the messages according to the location of the drop-off centre made a big difference as well.”
Next year Pieters expects the project to grow by another 10-15 collection centres and see 100,000 gift boxes donated. She plans to continue to use SMS to drive gift drop offs by donors, but also incorporate it into her internal communications with her network of 70+ co-ordinators around the country. She plans to use SMS to co-ordinate training sessions, keep the co-ordinators appraised of internal issues – for instance the website often takes strain due to high traffic volumes when the call for donors is first opened – as well as communicate with them during the drop off period.
“Yet again SMS has proved its worth as a logistical tool. For last minute emergency communications to a group of people, when you need to be sure the message will be received, read immediately and acted upon, SMS is the only choice,” said Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com.
BulkSMS.com’s application-to-person (A2P) messaging service is being used around the world for emergency notifications such as schools being closed for snow days or updates on the spread of diseases. The company also offers non-profit organisations, schools and faith-based organisations SMS messages at cost, to be used for non-commercial purposes. More information can be found at community.bulksms.com
2012 is the year the electronic communications opt-in vs opt-out debate is going to come to a head, and the fallout is going to have a significant impact on both businesses and consumers. Related telecommunication regulatory decisions are going to affect both the price of SMS, as well as the amount of SMS spam consumers receive every day – directly impacting the efficacy of the medium.
So, an important year for both SMS as a channel, particularly when used as an alert service, as well as consumers and their exposure to SMS spam.
Here then are my predictions for 2012 in more detail.
Opt-in vs opt-out
This debate is hotting up in the SMS market thanks to many grey routes gradually being shut down. By using grey routes, companies were able to bypass the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association’s (WASPA) opt-in requirement. These routes include both international routes and sending via newly-licensed mobile operators.
So, direct marketers operating on an opt-out basis stand to lose a lot of business if their messaging has to comply with WASPA’s opt-in requirement.
While these direct marketers are furiously lobbying WASPA to move to an opt-out framework in order to legitimise their traffic, it is no secret that I strongly advocate keeping opt-in mandatory for specifically the SMS channel. This is for a number of reasons including that the consumer incurs a cost to opt out-of an SMS communication; allowing an opt-out framework is likely to multiply SMS spam tenfold, rendering the medium useless for general business communications as well as transactional and alert messages; and an opt-in framework is vital for WASPA to effectively identify and punish spammers.
P2P SMS declines, A2P messaging on the increase
Person-to-person (P2P) SMS messaging is going to continue declining in 2012, thanks to the rising popularity of mobile instant messaging platforms such as BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), WhatsApp and iMessage. But application-to-person (A2P) messaging is going to stay on its upwards trajectory and in fact become more useful as a transactional and alerting mechanism now that people’s inboxes aren’t as flooded with social SMSs.
An SMS interworking fee is introduced
South Africa’s telecommunications regulator ICASA is going to have to enforce an interworking fee between operators for cross-network SMS delivery in order to sort out the current muddle of anti-competitive issues. Currently the newly-licensed entrants are taking advantage of the fact that they can terminate SMS messages for free on the networks of the incumbent operators. An internetworking fee refers to a fee paid to the network that delivers an SMS that originated on another mobile network – this has never been enforced in South Africa. This is a problem when it comes to A2P messaging, which typically is heavily asymmetrical, with very few replies generated for each message sent.
The cost of SMS
While mobile data prices are going to continue to fall in 2012, thanks to the ongoing price war between the South African mobile operators, the picture is not so clear-cut for SMS. For consumers, it is likely that at worst SMS prices will stay level but there is also a chance they may even drop if cross-network termination fees are introduced. This seems counter-intuitive; however the introduction of termination fees will draw the attention of ICASA and consumers to how little SMS actually costs operators. This is likely to put more pressure on operators to reduce SMS costs for consumers.
Cross-network termination fees will also mean the cost of SMS messaging for businesses that used to use grey routes is likely to increase as the incumbent operators are unlikely to continue delivering messages for free. The cost of SMS messaging via a WASP contract is likely to decrease to match the interworking fees charged between operators.
So in summary: opt-out is a myth and an opt-in model gives WASPA the teeth it needs to regulate the industry effectively to fight spammers. But this can only happen if WASPA governs all messaging routes and there is a level playing field in terms of pricing thanks the introduction of an SMS internetworking fee between the mobile network operators.