How can I automate SMS sending?
November 22, 2006 1:14 AM   Subscribe

I need to send text messages on a regular basis from an automated system. Is SMS the way to go, or is there a better alternative?

What I've found in my research is that while outgoing is relatively cheap (and can be free, if you don't mind going through an email gateway), incoming costs an arm and a leg. Plus your firstborn child. And maybe their firstborn. At least, that's what it feels like from the perspective of a startup company.

Is there a better way of communicating with cell phones? I can send messages to and its equivalent for other companies, but I also need to be able to receive - is email a feature that I can expect SMS-capable phones to have? (I've never had a phone that couldn't send text messages via email, but I don't know if this is universal).

This is for the US only, by the way - my system is geographically based, and only covers parts of the US. Whether that simplifies things, or reduces my options, I'm not sure.
posted by spaceman_spiff to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been working with FTEU (Free To End-User) SMS for the past few days. I'm not saying it's an appropriate solution, though - US carrier rules are pretty broken. It's a search term, though.

What volume and application are you talking about? If the application is "tell me when the servers go down/communicate with a non-internet-enabled device", then a (GSM) SIM modem is the way to go. For everything else, I'd say get an account with an SMS aggregator.
posted by Leon at 2:21 AM on November 22, 2006

Leon: yeah, SMS in the US is pretty screwed up. I don't have a problem with users being charged for it (I pay something like $.10 per message I receive on my phone, for example), if that's what you mean by FTEU.

Application - this is essentially a system where customers can submit queries and refine those queries via text. Not search, precisely, but a similar communications model. As far as volume, I'm hoping 1000-5000 outgoing messages a day, and a similar number of incoming messages. Again, outgoing looks to be pretty simple, but I'm not liking the idea of paying a few hundred dollars a month for an incoming number (and I looked at the GSM modem idea, but I don't have access to the server this will be running on, so that's out).
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:48 AM on November 22, 2006

My numbers for volume are actually an order of magnitude too high. That should've read "100-500 outgoing messages a day, and a similar number of incoming messages".
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:51 AM on November 22, 2006

I understand now - I thought you wanted to minimise the cost of MT messages to the end-user.

Place the modem somewhere else, and spit incoming messages into your application via HTTP - the amount of data involved should be tiny (150k a day, maybe?)

But you're either going to pay to receive the messages or pay for a shortcode - I don't think there's any way around that. 500 messages * $0.10 * 30 days = $1500, which makes it worth getting an account on a shared short code, IMO.
posted by Leon at 3:23 AM on November 22, 2006

You can receive text messages sent to an email address...
posted by onalark at 5:35 AM on November 22, 2006

just the other day, my wife and i were discussing why cellular voicemal systems had numeric paging. i presumed that many companies still use paging since sms was expensive.

is paging out of the question?
posted by mdpc98 at 8:00 AM on November 22, 2006

MDPC98: Yes, paging is out - we need details. Not just "hey, something's happening", but a back and forth dialogue. Unless I'm misunderstanding you?

Onalark: I thought about that, but I guess what I'm looking for is confirmation that texting to an email address is a standard feature, and not just something that I've been lucky enough to have on my contracts. It would certainly make my life simpler, though.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:55 PM on November 22, 2006

In the US, you could lease out a keyword on an existing short code. This would work out much cheaper, although mobile users would have to begin their queries with the keyword.

Also, you could delve into PSMS in which the mobile user carriers the cost of sending you their query and getting the response. If your application is worth it, you could even up the price and earn revenue through it.
posted by fambizzari at 2:31 AM on April 10, 2007

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