Posts Tagged ‘SMS’

Why SMS is purpose built for IoT

Quite a bold statement considering SMS is a technology that’s 30 x years old and nobody had heard of IoT 5 x years ago. So how come?

In the first instance the use of SMS to transport data to and from remote devices is not new. We worked with a Swedish carrier in 2003 delivering messaging to and from remote devices used in industrial applications to monitor temperature / pressure etc. This was and still is described as Machine 2 Machine (M2M) messaging.

Aside from the historical perspective that its tried and tested there are both some very practical reasons why IoT developers should consider SMS as well as some more technical ones:

COVERAGE
Perhaps the most obvious practical reason is the near universal coverage offered by 2G/3G/4G networks upon which SMS is transported.

MATURITY
2G / 3G and 4G networks are mature networks deployed over decades and clearly SMS works.

CAPACITY
There is plenty of capacity in existing networks. In 2014 the death knell for SMS was ringing loud and clear. Those pesky WhatsApp / Messenger etc were disrupting the consumer messaging market and decimating the P2P SMS market. A2P rode to the rescue in 2016 with handy text messages reminding us about dentist appointments or parcel delivery but the volumes of messaging have by no means returned to pre 2014 levels.

COST
Operators charge for data bundles and large numbers of SMS are offered at a low cost.

POWER USAGE
Many remote IoT devices will be battery powered and obviously power usage becomes critical. You need to maintain a permanent connection to an IP enabled IoT device. To do this it is problematic over IP for a centralised application to initiate a connection to the remote end device as the packets can get blocked by firewalls in the network.
To get around this the remote IoT device needs to routinely “wake up” from a low power state and establish a connection with the central application. Further this “wakeup” message has to be authenticated by the centralised application and an acknowledgement relayed to the remote IoT device. This process drains power.

SMS has a far simpler mechanism as at the SMS transport layer there is no idea of a permanent connection. There is at the physical radio layer but this has a very, very low power usage. If you want to send an SMS to a remote device and that device is out of range / turned off then the SMS is simply stored. When the remote device comes in range
or is switched back on the SMS is simply forwarded. Further the identity of the device is explicitly carried in the SMS message there is no external authentication and acknowledgement cycle.

Enabling IoT over SMS therefore offers a very low power solution enabling a battery life of years rather than hours.

DATA
SMS carries a 140 byte payload which for the vast majority of remote telemetry based applications like sensors is more than enough. Of course more data can be sent over multiple SMS messages.

THRIVING ECO SYSTEM
There is a thriving eco-system of vendors and service providers delivering SMS solutions. If an IoT developer is looking to deliver their service over SMS they can choose from a range of providers offering hosted API’s like Twilio or if they feel more adventurous hook up to networks directly with flexible next generation SMSC vendors providing a wide range of API interfaces like the Squire SVI-SMSC.

Quite simply an IoT developer can focus on what they are good at knowing end-to-end transport is taken care of. We know Smart Meter deployments are opting for SMS and in the UK this reversed the decision of one of the major UK mobile operators from decommissioning its 2G network.

THE FUTURE
GSMA https://www.gsma.com/iot/the-gsma-iot-infographic/ predict celluar IoT connections are due to surge from 760 million today to 3.1 billion in 2025. Of the 3.1 billion,1.3 billion ( 42%) will run on 2G / 3G / 4G / 5G and the rest will run over LPWA ( Low Power Wide Area ) networks.

There is some significant barriers to launching an LPWA network such as LoRa, Sigfox, RPMA or Weightless not least of which is the significant investment needed to provide enough base stations to provide adequate coverage.

Of course IoT connections over 3G / 4G / 5G will be IP based as well as SMS but when you simply don’t have an IP connection to the remote IoT device or its not guaranteed and you want a fall back mechanism then you are left with SMS.

Legend has it SMS was included in the specs to test end-to-end connections while rolling out the first GSM networks. No one predicted its success in the consumer market, many wrongly predicted its demise in 2014 and with the potential of IoT just starting to materialise it would take a brave pundit to predict anything else than its continued success.

SMS growth with IoT, AI and the Golden Goose

Fresh from the Messaging & SMS World show in London this week it was interesting to understand the potential fit for SMS within the rapidly developing IoT and AI landscape.

There was much discussion in terms of IoT and SMS at this year’s event, and it’s long been established that for many IoT applications SMS is, and is likely to remain as the default modus operandi, particularly within vehicle management. SMS powered IoT devices suck a lot less power than ones that rely upon constant cloud access making safety critical applications an obvious choice, and in-turn providing a multitude of opportunities from healthcare to energy for SMS growth in the future.

It was interesting to hear speakers and delegates discuss the complementary ways in which SMS can ultimately support IoT and how it’s seen as a failsafe mechanism in the event of failure to access the cloud, particularly relevant to safety critical applications.

More subtle is the use of SMS as a way for IoT manufacturers to communicate with their customers. Security is, as ever, a high priority, and with recent high profile DDoS attacks being staged from IoT devices it’s an area that IoT developers and manufacturers need to get right.

Your average consumer is not focused on network security as they install their latest IoT devices, yet manufacturers clearly cannot afford to ship all devices with default username and password settings.SMS can be effectively utilised by IoT vendors to communicate with consumers to insure they register and authenticate their IoT devices. Furthermore as evidence of network fatigue on apps that push notifications to consumer’s mounts, SMS can help guarantee the delivery of instructions surrounding ongoing critical software updates for devices.

Next up, and as ever a hot topic at the event was the big ‘AI’, specifically machine learning and bots. To be honest Artificial Intelligence is being strewn around as click bait across pretty much all tech sectors. At Messaging & SMS World we were presented with a pitch from a vendor claiming that their machine learning, artificially intelligent software would allow operators and aggregators to monitor SMS traffic, classify it, apply profiles and then the software would learn what was profitable and automatically manage this traffic, helping to block/reduce spam and low value traffic. To many this all simply sounded like big data analysis and pattern matching software, which SMS firewall vendors have been doing successfully for some time. Watch this space.

Bots again are attracting a lot of press coverage, however in the Telco sector there is cause for cheer on this front from the likes of T-Mobile who are successfully reducing churn by using bots to essentially frontend their support FAQs. It would follow that you could augment SMS interactions using bots. A vendor at the event described how they were successfully using SMS bots in conjunction with financial institutions to increase sales of their products in developing markets. The premise of this interaction seems to be that consumers weren’t always sure whether they were talking to a real person or a machine. But hey who cares, as long as you get a sale? Even the panel moderator raised the question of ethics on this one.

This leads us nicely back to the fundamentals of why A2P SMS is seeing such growth and why we must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. My appointment reminder from my dentist, notification that my Amazon parcel has been shipped, and that there’s been unusual activity I need to verify on my bank account are genuinely useful to me. With SMS being ubiquitous across all mobile devices I don’t have to download yet another app or dive into multiple chat groups to retrieve messages, and unlike my email my SMS is relatively immune from spam. Long may this remain, and long may A2P SMS drive growth and instill confidence in this corner of the Telco market.

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