19 Oct 2012

Bringing SMS and the Mobile Web together

This week's guest blog post is written by Thorsten Trapp, the CTO of tyntec. They participating at AfricaCom

The incredible penetration of mobile technologies in Africa has seen an enormous rise in the use of mobile communication and social networking across the continent. Because the mobile is often the sole means of telecommunications access, users have turned to this channel to facilitate the sort of online social interactions that have become so popular in recent years. 

However, whilst the mobile web has been the engine of growth for social networking on the go in developed markets, the historic lack of consistent 3G coverage in much of Africa has meant that companies and end users have often had to look to other technologies to power these experiences. It is for this reason that Africa has long been a passionate adopter of one the original mobile technologies, SMS, for social networking and other interactive mobile experiences.

The growth of African mobile market and SMS

The African market is the fastest growing mobile market in the world, so it is no wonder that investment in telecommunications infrastructure is exploding, expected to reach USD 1.5 billion in 2015. In addition, more and more companies want to tackle the market: for example, Google plans to sell 200 million of its Android Smartphones in Africa and in some countries such as Nigeria, mobile Internet connections have overtaken fixed-line.

However, although the growth of mobile Internet and smartphone sales across the continent are skyrocketing, 3G coverage is still patchy and the smartphone is far from ubiquitous. In a region where for many the mobile device is the only communications tool available to network, share relevant information with peers and overcome isolation, only one tool has the power to reach anyone, on any device: SMS messaging.

The benefits of SMS as a mobile web tool

Not surprisingly, SMS brings many benefits to the African market, because: 
·         It works on any phone and nearly every mobile user understands how to send and receive it.  
·         The GSM coverage that supports it is near ubiquitous and SMS can work even in areas where network coverage won’t support voice calling.
·         SMS remains uniquely impactful. Users tend to read and respond to an SMS within minutes of its arrival, unlike email which can all too easily be ignored or overlooked amongst the flood of spam that nearly everyone receives.

Moreover, SMS can replace many of the functionalities one associates with the mobile web. Because it is a two-way communications channel users can request and receive information in near real-time. Most text communication on the web is short and snappy, so the 160 character format of SMS also fits well. Clearly SMS is primarily a text channel, but it can also be used to provide easy links to rich content via WAP-push, enabling a full web-like experience.

As a mobile Internet service provider, particularly in Africa, this means one thing.  If you want to provide a service that can be used by the widest possible customer base then at the very least you need to be providing an SMS alternative to your mobile Internet presence and you may even be better off with a pure SMS service.

SMS and web services
One great example of a mobile web service that has been SMS enabled is Google’s Gmail.  In July this year Google announced an SMS-powered iteration of Gmail targeted at African markets. It replaces the on-screen functionality of the email service with text based commands and enables users with a featurephone or no mobile Internet coverage to send and receive emails on the go.

Another example is FrontlineSMS, an SMS-based service that uses mobile technology to promote positive social change, powering communication in fields such as disaster response, human rights monitoring, community radio, health, education and agriculture, to name just a few. The company enables communities and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to communicate with a ubiquitous communications platform that uses text messaging.

Looking to the future, there are more potential applications for SMS, even in areas and markets where mobile Internet is an option. For example, the recent rise of Over-the-Top (OTT) apps which enable free or low cost voice and messaging over the mobile web are increasingly looking to integrate traditional, ubiquitous SMS. 

Bringing together OTT and SMS can enable a new level of interoperability for these services, letting users send and receive messages outside of the ‘walled garden’ of the OTT app for the first time.

Which SMS to use?
Of course, as a mobile service provider your choice of SMS partner is key. There are many players at all levels of the value chain, each promising a different combination of price, quality and service levels.

tyntec is a leading company in the SMS industry offering high-quality SMS services across a portfolio of enterprise, mobile service provider, web business and mobile operator clients. The company has close relationships with more than 40 operators around the world, enabling it to offer an unparalleled degree of reliability in SMS transmission. 

tyntec works with more than 500 clients globally to help enable their SMS services. It offers a dynamic range of routing and service offerings, helping customers to build a business case for their SMS service in a number of ways.

With its established base in the African market, giving it reach to the continent’s 600 million+ mobile subscribers, tyntec is the SMS partner of choice for companies looking to deliver innovative, reliable mobile services at a competitive price.

For more information, please visit tyntec at AfricaCom - meeting room MR21 or contact info@tyntec.com.