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By Dr Pieter Streicher, MD of BulkSMS.com. Uploaded on: 22 February 2011.
Time and time again SMS is the technological exception to the rule. Not only is it incredibly resistant to downward price pressure, which has seen it immune to the dramatic price drops in the tech world over the last 10 years, it also refuses to be usurped by newer technologies.
A case in point is how SMS has been affected by the continuous rise of the
smartphone over the last year. Despite the extended capabilities of
smartphones, including cheaper communication options such as email and mobile
instant messaging, SMS volumes have not been cannibalised nearly as much as
predicted, and in some cases have even been boosted.
Smartphone penetration continues to grow at a rapid rate. Research house
Gartner saw in excess of 81 million smartphones sold worldwide in quarter
three, 2010, accounting for 19.3% of all mobile phone sales that quarter. This
is a massive 93% increase from the same quarter in 2009. Closer to home,
Gartner reports 16% smartphone penetration in South Africa at present, ramping
up to 80% by 2014.
In October 2010 the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) predicted 6.1
trillion SMS messages would be sent last year. Portio Research forecasted
earlier in the year that SMS traffic would exceed 10 trillion by 2013. ABI
Research reported that there would be 4.2 billion users of SMS around the world
Previously, there have been some dire predictions that SMS’s days are numbered
thanks to the smartphone, and specifically because of an increased uptake in
mobile instant messaging (MIM). A TNS survey in 2008 indicated that people who
use MIM send 23 SMS’s per 100 messages they send. Compare this with non-MIM
users who send 38 SMS’s per 100 messages they send. Let’s face it, this is a
40% drop. But what the survey doesn’t show is to what extent overall messaging
has increased, which would reduce the real drop in SMS messages sent.
SMS is ubiquitous and comes pre-installed on all phones – 4.2 billion people
actively use SMS according to market watcher Tomi Ahonen. You know the
recipient will be able to receive an SMS and be able to respond to you. Compare
this to smartphones – according to research from online market company, Compete
Inc, 27% of owners have never downloaded and installed an application,
including MIM applications, on their smartphone.
In addition, the MIM market is highly fragmented and different platforms have
different ways of identifying users – unlike SMS which only needs a cell phone
number, which the user generally already has. Despite a couple of attempts to
integrate various MIM platforms to produce a universal application, there is no
real incentive to do this from the operators’ points of view, since so much
revenue is being earned from SMS. Nor is there an incentive for individual MIM
platforms to open up to others. Standing alone, the biggest MIM platforms are
orders of magnitude smaller compared to the SMS platform in terms of the number
of phones that run them.
There is no denying that MIM and specifically BlackBerry messenger and WhatsApp
have a large and growing user base, but the impact on SMS will be far less than
expected. In SA where MXit has a significant penetration, SMS is still widely
used by MXit users.
User behaviour has a large role to play as well. In the same way that users are
increasingly migrating from voice to SMS because of the asynchronous nature of
SMS – although the communication is immediate, it is less disruptive and you
can reply at your leisure – it is likely to also be a reason for users to
prefer SMS to MIM for certain types of communication. The lower volume of SMS
messages received makes it more effective as an alert and notification medium.
In addition, SMS has become an acceptable way to communicate with business
contacts and people you don’t know that well. Even amongst die-hard MIM users,
SMS is preferred when communicating with certain audiences. Likewise, while
business communications via SMS have become acceptable, it is unlikely the
average user would appreciate a company initiating a conversation with them via
IM, or even dish out an IM username to a company, for that matter.
Ironically smartphones have also made it easier to send SMS’s, with QWERTY
keyboards or touch screens, threaded conversations and other improvements to
the SMS interface. In addition, we are seeing an increased demand for SMS from
application developers – with SMS alerts vital to the set-up and function of
many mobile applications. Social media platforms and couponing, both growing
sectors, are also integrating SMS into their services.
Yet again, SMS, that accident of mobile technology, now in its 18th year, has
proved resilient in the face of rapid and exciting communication technology
advances and has earned its status as universal communications channel.