Does your company still use Short Message Service (SMS) to notify users or to update remote devices? If so, you might want to consider some alternatives. In addition to not being the best way to accomplish these tasks, SMS costs can add up over time. In this blog post, I will discuss some alternatives to SMS that could provide you with better functionality and be a source of cost savings.
Push notifications are best suited to notify people
Someone holding a mobile device doesn’t usually expect to receive an SMS to be notified about an event after he has installed your app. These days, push notifications provide a much richer and more convenient way to engage or re-engage users.
Consider these benefits of using push notifications rather than SMS:
- Push notifications can reach devices that have no SIM card, like most tablets.
- Push notifications are better integrated within the operating system (notification bar, badge, sound, image and so forth), thus providing a better mobile experience.
- Push notifications can interact with the application, even if it’s not active at the time the push is received.
- A notification can contain all of the data that is needed to be useful and to alert the user (for example, “Your new checkbook is available at your agency”).
Unlike SMS, push notifications can reach all of the devices a single user holds. We know that today people tend to use many mobile devices across the day, each one adapted for a particular use.
Push notifications are best suited to engage users when your mobile app is context aware. When used together with geolocation, for example, they can be an ideal vector to guide users toward an action.
It goes without saying that push notifications should be used with caution if you don’t want users to disable them quickly if they feel they are being spammed. You should send notifications appropriately, based on an opt-in preference for each type of notification that the user is interested in.
With notifications to users, there’s still a space for SMS: when users have featured phones or didn’t install your application. However, as more and more people obtain advanced mobile devices, we look for easier and faster ways to communicate with them. Push notifications are one of those ways.
MQTT is best suited for notifying devices
Many industries, like transportation and automotive, are also using SMS to update wireless devices. For example, some railway companies update the train arrival time display using SMS. This can be a poor way to send data, though. Because SMS is a message sent only one way, the sender has no idea if the targeted device actually received the message.
A very efficient way to send this kind of notification is to use the MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocol. This protocol, which is about to be designated as an OASIS standard for machine-to-machine communications, has been built from the ground up to handle two-way communications for small devices, like sensors, on unstable networks.
MQTT is based on a “publish and subscribe” mechanism, which allows one source to send data to multiple subscribers with a guarantee of delivery if required. There are many messaging hubs implementing MQTT to dispatch messages between consumers and subscribers, but IBM MessageSight suits this task well, particularly in the case of notifications. It can handle millions of simultaneous connections, millions of messages sent per second and even let you know when a client is disconnected. This is particularly important when it comes to monitoring and maintaining remote devices. Last but not least, from a developer’s perspective, implementing MQTT both on a device and in the enterprise software is really easy and helps save time.
For those wanting to experiment with MQTT, I recommend visiting m2m.demos.ibm.com and playing with the live demos available there (KeyFob Remote and ChatterBox are my favorites).
Still not convinced? It’s time to get out your calculator. Say that you pay 30 cents for an SMS message and send 500,000 per year. Well, that’s $150,000! That’s enough money to make you want to consider alternatives.
For better functionality, you can think about investing in a mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP) like IBM Worklight, which would provide you with a cross-platform notification engine. Or you could consider MessageSight if you are notifying devices. You’ll find that your return on investment is fast.
Do you know of examples in your industry where SMS is still the standard? Let me know in the comments or connect with me on Twitter.