While text messaging may not be as popular as it was in at its peak in 2012, it remains a valuable way to communicate with a wide range of people, as it’s widely available on virtually all phones. In addition, because it’s a mature technology, it’s also extremely stable, requiring a simple interface that hasn’t changed for years. This makes it ideal for application-to-person (A2P) use.
Introduction of SMS
The first SMS was arguably sent by Neil Papworth in 1992, who sent the message from a PC to a phone. From a theoretical technical quirk, this technology grew in popularity dramatically once phones were created that took advantage of it, thanks to the ease and relative brevity of communication it offered. In 2011, more than 2 trillion texts were sent in the United States alone.
SMS Use Since 2004
As cellphones and smartphones have become more widely adopted by the general population, the use of text messages to communicate has exploded. In 2004, approximately 56 billion texts were sent in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, that figure was 27 billion. As cellphone adoption became more widespread, these figures grew to 2.4 trillion text messages in the United States in 2011 and 172 billion in United Kingdom in 2012 [Source].
However, the growing use of smartphones and the connectivity that they offered across multiple platforms started to cut into the overall volume of text messages, primarily due to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and other OTT messaging platforms gradually increasing market share over “traditional” text messaging. This led to some commentators loudly announcing that SMS is dead.
This proclamation, however, seems rather premature. Although these technologies have reduced the use of SMS from a person-to-person perspective, the relative security of a phone (limited to a single handset rather than across multiple platforms) makes it ideal for receiving user-specific information from businesses or from individual devices that are part of the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things
Articles on what was often called the information superhighway as far back as 1994 described a world in which everything was interconnected by the Internet, yet it has taken nearly two decades for that concept to be realised. The key hurdle was the availability of information — vast mobile networks were not particularly common, and they certainly weren’t capable of handling the data volumes required. Consumers were still limited to dial-up modems, which meant that the per-unit cost of data was extremely high.
All of this started changing as broadband and fiber-optic networks were created and made available to everyday consumers, with DSL and fiber-optic lines gaining prominence in the early 2000s. Although the dotcom bubble burst in 2001, taking many companies down with it, the rapid expansion of companies showed the burgeoning potential of the Internet.
As the Internet recovered from this setback, the popularity of streaming video services and everyday communications led ISPs to increase bandwidth dramatically, forcing the per-unit cost of data down.
Enter into this mix the smartphone. While the first true smartphone became available in 1999, it wasn’t until 2007 when the iPhone was announced by Apple that the conditions became ripe for a rapid rise in mobile data. 3G technology was in its infancy, but it still allowed consumers access to the Internet while they were out and about. This revolution was also spurred by the rise of the netbook, compact laptops that were low powered but cheap and able to connect to any Wi-Fi hotspot. This encouraged the creation of ultra-efficient and cheap processors that were able to power these small devices.
Tablets duly followed, taking advantage of resistive multitouch technology and the easy access to data. Naturally, other devices started having processes and chips implanted so that they could communicate with these mobile communication technologies. The Internet of Things finally started to take shape.
The Limitation of Apps
However, the way that most technologies communicate to smartphones and other devices is via a series of apps. Unfortunately, this means that consumers need separate apps for potentially dozens of pieces of equipment — all of this ensures that batteries become drained very quickly as each of these apps strive to stay updated. In addition, not everyone has a smartphone or has access to high-quality mobile Internet. Indeed, only 40 percent of the world currently has access to an Internet connection at home.
This is where SMS communication can help users. Rather than having to download yet another app onto their smartphone — and then transfer that app when they change contracts or update their phone — they can use an already present technology for application-to-person communication: SMS.
Potential Use Case: Vehicles
Cars, goods vehicles and buses are already being connected to the Internet of Things, thanks to the trickle-down approach that manufacturers use. First, technology is placed in high-end luxury vehicles, usually prestige brands. Then, fleet vehicles, such as goods vehicles and buses, gradually receive the technology as the benefits start to become apparent. Then comes widespread consumer uptake as the price finally falls to practical levels.
In Europe, for example, by 2018, all new cars must have an eCall-equipped chip [Source], which contacts local emergency services in the event of a collision. In addition, there are cars already on the road that can theoretically be controlled remotely — a security flaw forced the recall of 1.4 million Jeep Cherokees as researchers demonstrated that they could take over cars and accelerate and brake at will. Tesla Motors provides a summon option for its vehicles that allows consumers to call the car, which then automatically drives up to them.
But SMS integration could provide automatic application-to-person updates regarding the car’s condition. A reminder to service, for example, can easily be delivered by SMS, as could reminders to update tags or complete mandatory services, such as the yearly MOT that’s required in the UK.
In addition, SMS messages could be used to identify potential issues with the vehicle — particularly those that are traditionally conveyed by a simple light on the dashboard. This also makes fleet management easier, as those who manage multiple brands of vehicle would receive information on a single platform rather than via multiple apps. This also allows machine-to-machine communication, as vehicles would be able to automatically book themselves in for servicing.
In terms of fleet management, the Internet of Things can also be used to monitor where vehicles are, their speed, their heading and their estimated time of arrival automatically, giving customers a reliable method of checking where the delivery is. Again, all of this can be delivered via an SMS message, which is more practical than using an app. The Internet of Things can also be used to improve fuel consumption figures by informing managers of idle times, such as via Automile, and checking that drivers are taking fuel-efficient routes.
The Internet of Things and SMS
Overall, the Internet of Things has serious potential, and by integrating SMS functionality into it ensures that a much larger segment of the population can use it. In addition, this mature technology simplifies the interface used, as it’s available to every manufacturer.
While there are obvious security concerns with the Internet of Things, particularly given the recent DDOS attack on Dyn, which took down the Internet in most of the United States in October 2016 and used Internet-connected cameras and DVR players to do so, it’s clear that it is here to stay. Firms need to be able to utilize this technology effectively yet do so in a way that is accessible to all. SMS offers that accessibility, making a highly efficient option.