It doesn't have to be that hard

 

Everyone has a smart mobile phone these days. It is becoming the main way of communicating with clients. What can be more natural than an ability of a program to send automatic SMS messages to clients? This is an ideal way of reminding the clients of their incoming meetings or appointments. We all have started receiving such messages. So it is time to embrace this technology.

We had a project to add the SMS messaging to our systems waiting in a queue for a while. It was not clear how to start the project. Every new technology looked confusing at the beginning. There is a lot of information about it but they are not much useful. Everyone is pushing their ideas and solutions and they contradict one another too.

We had to start from the beginning. The first thing was to understand the environment that we need for this to work? It looked to us that we have to provide the following elements:

We needed a GSM modem to link to our server. The modem will send our SMS messages to the outside world.

Having the modem is just one step. Implementing it in our system is something completely else. We were hoping to get software that goes with the modem and will let us communicate with the modem in a simple way.

We were dealing with the mobile network, so than the usual rules should apply.  We needed a SIM card to put in the modem in order to be able to send the messages. For that we must have a valid contract with a mobile provider.

The modem and software that goes with it was our first concern. We have looked at several suppliers on the Internet.  It was interesting that modems usually come without much software and that on another side, are software providers claiming that their software works with a list of modems on the market.  I was expecting that they would be offered together making it easy for us to buy. I looked at the costs involved and realized that paying just for the software will go over the budget for most of our clients. There must be a better way to do this!

The way ahead looked obvious: talk to suppliers and providers. That’s where the nightmare started. You could expect that the big providers are ready for this technology. We are not talking about one individual contract sending up to hundred messages a month and paying $40 for that. We are talking about a company communicating with thousands of current clients and trying to attract new ones by sending thousands of marketing messages every month.  They surely must have an offer for that!

Here is what I have experienced:

The first step was to call Telstra. They are the biggest one and are a logical point to start.  Very soon after calling them I realized that they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.  After thinking carefully for a while one operator finally asked me: “Do you have a contract with us?”  I asked: “Why do you need to know that”. “Well, without the contract you can’t do anything”. I tried to explain that it is not me but my clients that will have contracts with them. I tried hard but we simply were not able to pass this question about the contract. They definitely were not ready.

I didn’t want to go through this all again now with another big provider: “Optus” so I looked at their website first. Unexpectedly, I came across an article that seemed to cover exactly what I needed. It was talking about a product called Email2SMS. According to the article, they were offering a service that will receive e-mails from our system, convert them to SMS messages and send through the mobile network. The only requirement was to put a mobile number as a part of the e-mail address. 

This looked like a perfect solution to our needs. No need to learn about GSM modems and how to implement them in our systems. So, I called Optus.  I went through five operators, explaining to each of them what I needed.  I had a talk with different experts but all ended up with nothing as nobody knows anything about that product.  I even helped one of the experts find the article on their website. After more than an hour on the phone I had realized that the product Email2SMS, although advertised, simply does not exist. It looked like any enthusiastic person must have suggested this new product to the company but that idea felt on deaf ears in the company.

I decided then to change the tactics and look for this in a different way. I knew that big banks can send mass SMS messages, I had received some. I stared to search Internet hoping to find the providers that they use. I searched using SMS and bank names as keywords.  It took a while but unexpectedly I managed to find what I was looking for. I have found a company that is providing this service to the banks. I looked at their website and then called them.  It was really a relief seeing that they knew what I was talking about. Not only that, but they immediately sent me documentation, pricing and organized an account for me with a number of free SMS messages to test the feature.  This was the haven.

They have several services that they offer and had the same name as what came across in Optus. They call it Email2SMS. Only this time it really existed and worked.  Implementing in our system was trivial.  As a result we are now able to offer the clients a brand new feature i.e. ability to send mass SMS messages directly from their systems.

You just have to select the clients from a client list on your system, type in a message text and press Send. The SMS message will flow through the network and will immediately pop-up on their mobile phones.  It is so simple and works in the way it should be.   To come to this point we had to go a long way, starting from the jungle of information, and struggling with suppliers and providers that were not ready for this technology.