A2P SMS Messaging: Past to Present

6 min read

What does A2P mean to you? Many of us working in the mobile industry use the word “A2P” (Application-to-Person) to refer to “A2P SMS” which can and does create some confusion outside of our immediate vicinity. “A2P” is actually an all-encompassing word which refers to a wide variety of channels which organisations can use to deliver both Transactional and Marketing content, and it’s a rapidly evolving landscape.

The sheer variety of channels available is mind-boggling and may easily overwhelm people investigating it sometimes. A “one size fits all” approach does not exist either. Enterprises need to customise their engagement strategy. Mobile network operators (MNOs) need a clear picture of the channels they deliver and the services they enable.

With the likes of push messaging, RCS (Rich Communication Services), USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) and Over-the-Top (OTT) channels such as Viber and WhatsApp Business all being options, where does any organisation start? How does one start evaluating what the future may have in store for us?

A mobile foundation

When looking into our future we absolutely need to cast our eyes over what has gone before us. Winston Churchill said: “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward”. And he was correct; history is after all one of the best predictors of the future. Many inventions human beings have come to rely on, and value today had a less than stellar entry into our subconscious at their outset. Take SMS and, to an increasing degree, Rich Communication Services (RCS).

The concept of SMS was developed in the Franco-German GSM cooperation in 1984 by Friedhelm Hillebrand from Deutsche Telekom and Bernard Ghillebaert from France Telecom. What many do not appreciate is that SMS was never devised as being a 2-way means of communication from the get-go.

It took a full eight years for the concept to be realised, when on December 3rd, 1992, the first SMS was sent over the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom by Neil Papworth from Sema Group (now Mavenir Systems) using a personal computer to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone using an Orbitel 901 handset. The message was simply “Merry Christmas.” But hang on a second. Sent using a personal computer? Yes. No mobile phones at that time had a keypad alphabet layout! The development of that side of things needed to play catch-up.

The first commercial deployment of a short message service centre (SMSC) was by Aldiscon, part of what was Logica. They implemented this in Telia (now TeliaSonera) in Sweden shortly after, in 1993. It really took about seven years for SMS to become the globally recognised, powerful 2-way means of personal communication it used to be. We are of course talking about Person-to-Person, or P2P, SMS. Fast forward a quarter of a century and we believe that the candle of A2P SMS will burn brightly for a good few years longer.

With an open rate of 98% (the majority within the first 10 minutes), no other channel in isolation drives anywhere near the level of engagement SMS does. The much-vaunted chat app has an open rate in the region of 70-80% — but within 60 minutes! SMS is easy to integrate with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or other database and therefore no surprise why A2P SMS is the No.1 mobile engagement channel of choice for enterprises globally.

But don’t just take our word for it. In the ROCCO 2018 Messaging Strategy Report the only channel all enterprise respondents globally were using was A2P SMS. It was also the channel enterprises regarded the most positively. Yet A2P SMS only started to gain serious traction globally a decade ago. Then only 1-way, A2P SMS has evolved into something very much 2-way. This trend will continue. 2-way SMS is unobtrusive and fantastic for things such as customer service applications and short surveys. Latin America in particular has really caught on to the latter.

Apps — cannibalising SMS?

A2P SMS evolution has a bright future and we will continue to see a load of development in the sector. Until smartphone penetration increases further globally and rock steady mobile data/Wi-Fi services become available at a fair price to the global population though, SMS will still play a critical role. This having been said, however, there are other channels for A2P traffic, not all of them under the operator’s control.

There is a paradox here. Contrary to popular belief, humans don’t actually like apps! Various research studies have shown that we spend around 75% of our time with apps using just three of them. However, it is most likely that, of those three, the majority will be chat related. People actually prefer conversing, they like 2-way means of communication. As a consequence, apps which facilitate conversations and enable more expressive communication have proven highly popular. This will only accelerate in the future. Both operators and enterprises should take note.

On January 25th Facebook announced its plan to integrate its messaging services on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. While all three will remain stand-alone apps, at a much deeper level they will be linked so messages can travel between the different services. Once complete, the merger would mean that a Facebook user could communicate directly with someone who only has a WhatsApp account. This is currently impossible as the applications have no common core. The exact timeframe for this work remains unclear and all Facebook have committed to is that it is the start of a “long process”. Industry experts believe it will take more than a year to achieve.

But there is far more that enterprises can do with social media than just Facebook messenger. Viber Business Messaging is, if anything, more established, and Viber and partners like GMS have an established track record in using chat apps as an A2P platform. Viber offers a vibrant and engaging channel, and the platform’s maturity and engagement potential have been demonstrated in many successful campaigns. While Facebook also seems to be very keen to try and set the tone in this sector, given the fragmentation in the chat app marketplace it is unrealistic to expect any of them in isolation to push out the existing mobile engagement heavyweights (SMS, push messaging, etc.) totally. For targeted campaigns and specific use cases they offer great levels of engagement, but no individual A2P chat app will become the core Messaging pillar globally anytime soon.

From apps to push messaging

Today’s app marketers dedicate a huge amount of budget and effort to client acquisition. But much of this money is wasted: many never use the app they download. And apps go hand in hand with push messaging, No.3 on the list of mobile engagement channels most favoured by enterprises as per ROCCO’s 2018 report. Push is the channel used by apps or a smartphone OS to deliver alerts and messages directly to a user’s screen.

In 2009 Apple launched their Push Notification Service to further enhance this. PNS is a platform notification service created to enable third party app developers to send notification data to apps installed on Apple devices. Google got in on the act in May 2010 when it released its own service, Google Cloud to Device Messaging (C2DM). Almost a decade on, and the rest is history. Push messaging is all around us and whilst it most definitely has its place and the market for it is strong, we don’t see it growing so fast in the future. It has its challenges; things enterprises in particular need to be mindful of.

The volume of push messaging transactions being sent by an enterprise can be overwhelming and, often associated with this frequency, the perceived value of the content can be sadly lacking. Organisations need to use data, analytics and extensive testing to further customise the in-app experience so that their customers see the value. They can deliver genuinely personal messages to the right users at exactly the right time. And the good news is that there have never been more retention channels and tools available for app marketers today!

A2P today

Globally, organisations of all sizes, whether for profit or non-profit, need the ability to engage with their customers, members and indeed own team as effectively as possible. Meanwhile, operators need to be keenly aware of the entire messaging ecosystem in order to remain competitive.

Global Message Services, situated at the intersection between enterprises and operators, have a responsibility to consider the big picture when it comes to the world of mobile messaging. With so many A2P channels available, this has never been so important. We offer our profound knowledge of the market, create turnkey solutions of the highest quality, and tailor them to perfectly fit our client’s needs.

Find out more about how GMS is helping mobile operators and enterprises take advantage of the A2P SMS evolution today!

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