When you think of SMS messaging, typically people refer to messaging via mobile phones through Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).  Over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of the so-called NUVOs – Network Unaffiliated Virtual Operator – a type of OTT service provider who offers phone number based and app-based messaging on smart devices that also interworks with the existing SMS ecosystem. This means that a NUVO subscriber can send and receive messages from an AT&T or a T-Mobile or Verizon subscriber.

The NUVO model has worked well in the North American market and has played a role in mitigating some of the overall drop in traffic that SMS has seen as the result of pure-OTT plays – iMessage remains the biggest factor in a roughly 15% drop – but both Kik and WhatsApp have also cannibalized this ecosystem to an extent. Of course in Western Europe and Asia, various OTTs to the tune of almost 1billion active users have also played havoc on SMS traffic volumes (and of course, associated revenues for MNOs). 

Now, just when you thought that you understood the messaging ecosystem, here comes landline texting. And I’m talking about text-enabling that desk-phone that sits beside your laptop or monitors in your cube or office. I’m also talking about text-enabling the phone number that your parents and/or grandparents have had for over 50 years.  I’m also talking about the millions of toll-free numbers – those 800,866, 877 numbers.  I’m even talking about the vanity toll-free numbers that we all know — all text-enabled.

“Whoa!” you say.  Bill!  Dude!  How can this BE?  Well, think about how NUVOs helped make messaging device independent and essentially created the concept of cloud-based messaging. Different companies have a different view of what is cloud messaging, but to me, it is what enables NUVO/OTT users to be able to resume or move texting conversations to different devices – a tablet, a mobile device, even a desktop.  Mobile operators have quickly gotten into “cloud-based messaging.”  Verizon Messages provides just that capability and it works great.

 

For supporting landline texting, there are now a handful of companies that are providing app-based messaging; however, instead of assigning a new telephone number (acquired from various CLECs) that is dedicated to a particular messaging service (think a Pinger number or a TextPlus number), the existing landline and/or toll-free number is associated with that app.  Otherwise, the service is cloud-based as it can work across multiple devices and interoperate with the existing SMS ecosystem. 

The Cambridge MA company HeyWire (an early and still successful NUVO with over 3 million active monthly users) recently launched HeyWire Business – a texting service that enables businesses to text-enable their existing landlines.  Their service provides for message encryption as well as messaging apps for both mobile devices and Web-based for desktops, leveraging their existing HeyWire cloud for dissemination of messages to users’ devices.  HeyWire
Business can scale from small business to enterprise class services. 

While HeyWire is focusing on business landlines, they aren’t the only one.  Seattle-based ZipWhip just announced that they have partnered with Primary Wave Media to bring texting to vanity toll-free numbers.  This is significant because this means that you will be able to text your favorite vanity toll-free number and then likely carry on a conversation via text vs. having to call, potentially wade through IVR layers to speak to a real human.  ZipWhip is also promoting text-enabling any landline or toll-free number per their website and they provide some very nice graphics as to how it works.

 

With around 140 million landlines in use in the U.S. today and tens of millions of toll-free numbers, text-enabling all of them is not an easy proposition, but it is one that can significantly boost the “SMS ecosystem” in this country and probably Canada too (what we refer to as the “+1 market,” in the mobile industry).  Both ZipWhip and HeyWire have early starts and there are others out there as well that are silently working on similar propositions. 

Landline texting, like the “original” MNO texting and now NUVO texting is not without its detractors and controversy; however, for the +1 market, there are accepted best-practices and guidelines to insure that all players work together to keep undesirable, unsolicited traffic off the network. We, as an industry work very hard to make sure the texting ecosystem is not polluted by masses of undesirable spam and unsolicited advertisements.  Imagine now, using your home
landline number as your texting number for close friends, you mobile number for texting business associates only.  This further helps to sort out the BYOD questions as to how one can be reached in personal communication situations.  For example, if your business landline was text-enabled you might not want to give out your personal mobile phone number in business-only situations, anymore.  Landline texting, extends the choices that users can make as to what numbers to make available and to whom. 

I will go as far as to say, that at least in the +1 market, every assigned telephone number will eventually be text-enabled – mobile or landline (technically, CLEC numbers assigned to NUVO user accounts are “landline” numbers) well before the end of this decade.  If the user of that number is not signed up for a texting app or account, then someone will probably provide a bounce-back and way to notify the number-holder that someone attempted to text it.  But for now, and the foreseeable future, landline texting is focused on already-existing and assigned landlines (which are already part of the voice ecosystem).  As for the existing landlines outside of the +1 market, we have to remember that in many countries – it cost an MNO subscriber more to send a message to a landline vs. another MNO subscriber.  That’s simply a policy  problem that can only be overcome by many of the non+1 mobile operators themselves (and one reason why, in my opinion, that non-SMS OTTs have succeeded so well in many non+1 markets).  Still there are pockets of landline texting all over the world, but not nearly to the extent that we are starting to see in the +1 countries.

Enabling another service such as texting on a traditionally voice-only telephone number (e.g. landline) begins to set the stage for the evolution of the ecosystem to a multi-service based solution where capabilities such as Rich Communications Suite (RCS) starts to come into play.  Messaging plays a significant role in RCS and RCS messaging is backwardly compatible to SMS/MMS. So, enabling texting for landlines, begins to incrementally set the stage for bigger and better communications systems that are on the way.

As the texting ecosystem continues to evolve and mature, landline texting will take its natural place along with MNO and NUVO SMS.  This adds further SMS differentiation and advantages over the non-SMS OTTs (e.g. Kik, WhatsApp) as these users would have no way to reach businesses that have text-enabled their toll-free numbers or landline numbers (and of course, vice-versa).  With around 140 million active landlines today, active texting by a fraction can have a profound effect on the utility and further ubiquitous-ness of SMS-based texting.

Agree, disagree?  I’d love to see your comments.

As always, you can also follow me on Twitter: @wdudley2009

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13 Comments

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  1. John Larson

    “New Generation” is exactly what is happening. A common response we get when we tell people about our new service is “Why did this take so long!” – they clearly don’t understand the telecom industry 😉 Regardless, our customers are thrilled that they can finally text from their existing business phone number that they have years, often times decades, of equity built into. It’s our hope that the norm is that consumers just expect that they can text any phone number, whether it’s a local or a toll free number.

    Great post Bill. Thanks

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  2. John Lauer
    Great post Bill. Yes, landline texting is here. Of course the first question we get asked at Zipwhip is, “Well, how does my landline phone get the texts?” The answer is it doesn’t. The PC sitting to the right of it, or the iPad sitting to the left of it gets the text. That’s key to making all of this work and indeed it is. We’re seeing sign ups like crazy with this new world of text enabling landlines and toll-free numbers.
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  3. William Dudley Post author

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments. 

    I had another commentor (on LinkedIn) note that with RCS, the line between landline and mobile is even more blurred. With RCS, it’s all about the services provided and there is no segregation of services for landline and services for mobile. The telephone number is simply an identifier (albeit an identifier with some equity as you well point out).

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  4. Meredith Flynn-RIpley

    Thanks Bill for such a nice write-up.    As HeyWire continues to pioneer the concept of cloud messaging and text-enabling landlines for businesses, it’s exciting to see our customers increasing their productivity and building better customer management experiences.  Stay tuned for more announcements  from us with use cases that highlight how the HeyWire platform and our highly rated/ranked apps are changing business communications for the better. 

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  5. R. Braithwaite

    “texting” on landline isn’t really very new.  Telstra (Australian telco) had this over ten years ago.  Non SMS capable phones had the incoming message converted to audio/voice and SMS capable phones had a display just like a mobile/cell phone.  I think the service was discontinued a few years ago as not many people actually used it!  And that was when SMS was becoming huge and not everyone had mobile phones….

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  6. John Lauer

    Hi R. Braithwaite, I think it’s important to not include the notion of “converting texts to a voice call” in what Bill is referring to with landline SMS. Converting text to voice actually breaks the texting medium. The problems are:

    1. When a mobile user sends a text, having your mobile operator convert to it to a robotic voice call is always an unpleasant surprise.

    2. The receiving user is actually disturbed by what the robotic voice call is. They never know what to make of it.

    3. The voice call doesn’t come from the actual user that texted them, so they don’t know inherently who sent it.

    4. There’s no way to send a reasonable reply back to the person.

    The real solution is to provide a web, tablet, or smartphone app to the landline to let them do actual texting and to keep texting in the form it’s meant to be in, which is short format text messages. Once you pull that off, magic happens. The texting world is then accessible to the billions of landlines out there. In the U.S. that is now the case. All 200 million landlines and toll free numbers can finally participate as a full-fledged member of the texting ecosystem.

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    1. R. Braithwaite

      Hi John, yeah the convert-to-speech thing is a stopgap for message receivers who are using non-compatible handsets.  I do most certainly agree with you that it’s quite flakey and fraught with usability issues.

      But, I’m wracking my brain trying to think of a killer use for SMS over copper.  It has always been something which is in the domain of mobile/cell telephony.  As Bill writes, we have a location identifier (the unique landline number) which could be leveraged however I think that most of the devices associated with it will themselves have a mobile/cell comms capability as well.

      Of course, we still have things which run over copper, such as home based monitoring (security and medical) which could be converted to deliver their data via SMS messages.  Which is how a lot of mobile apps started in the dim dark days – splitting the data load over a bunch of SMS’s.

      Bill:  I am now officially intrigued….. can you continue the story??

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      1. John Lauer

        You can’t think of this as SMS over copper. Shoving an SMS over copper would never be the way to go in our modern Internet age. Instead, you just shove the SMS across the Internet. You enable a business to login to a web app with their landline number and send/receive texts.

        Here’s some killer use cases of live working customers (none of this is over copper):

        Supertooth Dentistry – Their main landline has been around for 10 years. All their customers know it and use it. They used to call 40 people per day to remind them of appointments. Now they text them.

        C89.5 High school radio station – They’ve had their landline for 20 years for listeners to call in. Now, when the DJ’s talk, they say “hey, you can now text our request line.” They get more inbound text traffic than their Twitter or Facebook feeds.

        National Restaurant Association – You can still call their main call center landline number to get your certification exam scores, but now when you call their IVR system says “you can text us instead if you don’t want to sit on hold.” Within days most people were texting.

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        1. R. Braithwaite

          Thanks John.  The examples you’ve given are what probably should have happened here in Australia all those years ago where we did have SMS to landline happening.  If you (or your business) were offering to receive SMS’s on your landline then you’d have the equipment with which to receive the SMS.  We had it pitched to residential customers who didn’t have mobile/cell phones, as a way of communicating with their kids and “techy” friends who were all SMS’ing each other!  Of course we had, and still have, the usual SMS’s from businesses reminding us about our doctors appointments, car requiring servicing, hot deals from Joes Pizza’s and so on.  Some businesses are doing that in the reverse, however they’re using a mobile/cell format number and not their main landline number – I imagine there’s a slight shift of paradigm required to get users off the mindset that you can’t send an SMS to a phone number which isn’t a mobile/cell phone!

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  7. William Dudley Post author

    I should add at this point is that many MNOs do provide text-to-voice conversions in the US (and Canada).  Like John Lauer noted, the experience is less than optimal. In fact text to voice for landlines has been around almost 10 years here as well.

    I totally agree… what we are talking about today is leveraging the equity in existing landlines (business or personal), but think of the power to the business if anyone would be able to text a primary, known business line and then engage via text.  That’s huge.

    The solution is associating that number with an app and a cloud-based messaging ecosystem.  The number just becomes an identifier.  The user’s device could be a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. 

    I’ll stick with my view that in the not-too-distant future, virtually every Telephone Number should have multiple services associated with it — meaning you can text it, call it, and maybe even “share files to it” or engage in many other ways.  It becomes the unique identifier for that particular identity — whether the identity is an enterprise or a single person.

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