Messing with Messaging

This blog post first appeared in a Sybase blog; however, that is no longer online. It was first published on February 8, 2008.

Additional Commentary: I no longer hold some of the views that I made in this post.

It has been well-reported in the industry media over the past few months about the continued, explosive growth of mobile messaging – especially SMS and, in many markets, MMS. Either as a result, or despite this success, there are a few gray clouds trying to obscure this success with short-sided improvements and changes.

Over the past few months, I have seen a number of articles and blogs either promoting or lamenting the concept of home routing with SMS. This is where essentially, the receiving operator assumes responsibility for delivering (or not delivering) a message from another operator (e.g. the originating mobile operator). At first glance, this sounds good; however, there are fears that the receiving or destination mobile operator may “hold” the message if the receiving subscriber is roaming or has their handset switched off as well as a number of other possibilities.

Without home routing, the sending operator would retry the message until it is delivered or encounters some permanent error. The originating operator knows the final disposition of the message. The key is, this is the “standard” model for SS7 delivery. For IP type deliver to operators, in a P2P SMS ecosystem, the handoff is, in fact, to the recipient SMSC. Originators don’t typically return a Delivery Receipt – even when requested. You might see this type of scenario with CDMA operators. So, in a sense, this is not that different from home routing. Once the message is handed off to the recipient operator, it is recipient operator’s job to get it to the destination subscriber. And I can say that this happens more than 99.9% of the time – even if the subscriber is roaming. However, the primary difference here is that we, as a hub provider, a greatly assured that the message does, in fact, get delivered to the recipient subscriber, and we do have internal procedures to assure this. In a true Home Routing scenario, that may not always be the case – especially when messages are sent directly between operators without an SMS hub providing value-added services in the middle.

In a hub-based ecosystem, the hub providers must contend with different delivery methods and different network types with various operator procedures. Consequently, the hub provider community is in continual communications with their operator customers and understands the nuances of Home Routing and can work to minimize their impact on cross-carrier SMS. Still it is something that we, as an industry, need to work together on, to make sure the impact of the operator benefits of this service are not overshadowed by the potential of breaking, what is one of the great strides we have made in SMS interoperability.

Another area that concerns me is the further promotion of SMS (and MMS) termination fees by some operators and smaller hub providers. Termination fees have their place, in that they help police operators from receiving too much unsolicited SPAM, thus protecting their subscribers. However, messaging termination fees do run the risk of undermining the success of P2P SMS vs. A2P (or Bulk SMS). Operators seem to lump termination fees for bulk traffic with those for P2P international (and sometimes domestic traffic). In markets where there are no termination fees, but tighter controls on bulk SMS, the marketplace has flourished. Just look at the USA, Canadian and Latin American markets and the recent success that SMS has played. However, in order for those markets to exchange traffic with markets that do require termination fees, sometimes cause problems of international operator reach and these markets require some arbitration on their behalf by the hub providers.

Overall, I don’t believe that Home Routing or expanded Termination Fees will have too much negative impact on the overall ecosystem; however, we, in the hub provider community that serves this ecosystem, must continue to evolve to meet these challenges and keep these gray clouds away.