Paul Poutanen, a Calgary-based high-tech executive for the past seventeen years, entered the mobile field after a long stint as a senior management consultant with Ernst and Young. He developed extensive mobile expertise working in management for wireless hardware and cellular location firms such as Wi-LAN and Cell-Loc. Paul became president of Blister Entertainment, where he developed the first cellular location-based games for North America, including the award-winning title Swordfish. Inspired to find a solution to the complex global testing process for mobile devices, Paul launched Mob4Hire in 2007.
Jonathan Kohl: Tell me about SMS. What is it exactly?
Paul Poutanen: SMS (Short Message Service), aka “text messaging,” is the number one mobile application in the world. All handsets support it; there is no handset that does not allow text messaging. Even with the simplest handsets in the world, SMS can be sent and received.
All you need is the person’s mobile number, and a 140-character message can be sent from another mobile handset. SMS is considered ubiquitous in the mobile space, and the only standard digital app that can be found on any device. It is also extremely popular: According to Wikipedia, approximately 2.4 billion handset users use SMS.
Jonathan Kohl: I keep hearing people say that SMS is dying. Is this true?
Paul Poutanen: Well, no. It is an enormous industry. Again, citing Wikipedia, over 6 trillion SMS messages were sent in 2010. Also, in 2010, it was a $114.6 billion industry. For comparison, this is bigger than the global music, video game, and movie industries’ revenues combined.
The predictions of the death of SMS stem from the growth of other services such as email, instant messaging, and other communication services. However, service providers can’t count on other services being on every device they need to interact with. Also, while message systems like instant messaging, voice over IP, and video chat are growing, not everyone knows everyone’s ID. To use SMS, all you need is a phone number.
Businesses that require a service to communicate with customers using a ubiquitous platform still reach for SMS for a variety of reasons. If they want you to know something, they know that your mobile phone will have an SMS app. They can use it in many different ways. Companies may use it to try to sell you goods and services within marketing campaigns. If you respond to their SMS with a code, you may win a prize or get a special deal on something you would like to purchase. Companies like eBay use SMS for text alerts on bids for products you are bidding on. Mobile telecommunications companies use SMS to inform customers on usage limits, minutes remaining on a phone plan, and roaming charges. Some providers will send weather information, driving directions, business listings, movie information, and all kinds of things that mobile users are interested in via SMS.
Jonathan Kohl: I didn’t realize this, but you have told me that companies are relying on SMS for business-critical and even mission-critical services. Do you have any examples of how SMS reliability is becoming more important?
Paul Poutanen: There are a number of business-critical and mission-critical services using SMS as one of their means of communications. With email getting overloaded, institutions like banks are using SMS messages as an alternative communication system to alert their customers about overdraft, payments required, etc. Money can even be sent via SMS via payment service providers and financial service providers. If an SMS message doesn’t come through, you might lose money.
Security companies are using SMS as a mechanism for password backup. For example, if you travel, you might get an access code in an SMS message as part of your login ID. If an SMS message doesn’t come through, you may not be able to login and do your work.
Medical services or pharmacy providers can use SMS to send medication reminders to patients who are on a schedule for medication. Sometimes, medications can be complex and require a strict schedule to be safe and effective. If an SMS message doesn’t get through, it could have tragic effects on the patient, who is depending on outside help to take the right medication at the right time.