Short Message Service, or SMS, is the common term for the most common platform used for text messaging. According to Nielsen the most-used data service in the world, SMS is used by both government and commercial bodies as a quick, efficient, and extremely cost-effective way to communicate in a customized, direct manner with a recipient.

These maximum 160-character messages have a 98% open rate, and can be received and viewed by virtually any cell phone in use today. Because, in addition, they use the same broadcast infrastructure and user-side identifiers (unique phone numbers) as regular calls, they are considered the most effective method of reaching a recipient with a short message without requiring special preparation (aside from legal ones, wherein the recipient confirms his/her desire to receive these messages so they are not considered a violation or intrusion).

While SMS technology is excellent for, say, a company to send a customer a temporary password, confirm an order, a reminder to renew a policy, or to announce a sale, these processes have one characteristic in common: They are done gradually, as one-offs, or in batches over time. Thus, they can be managed to balance and optimize servers utilization over time, and rarely require an instant broadcast to reach all customers or clients simultaneously.

The underlying technology of SMS isn’t considered an ideal platform to single-handedly drive an emergency alert system – this is the domain of Cell broadcast:

• Cell Broadcast is area-centric, rather than an SMS alert service, which is point-to-point, or user-centric. This means a single message is sent and received by every device in the area – even to visitors for whom the broadcaster has no individual phone number. For SMS alerts on mobile, the sender needs the phone number of each recipient and must wait for confirmation of reception.

• Because a standard (P2P) SMS alert system message is sent to each individual recipient, it may cause a “traffic jam” backlog in an area covering a particularly large number of targeted users. This can result in a portion of the population receiving the message beyond the relevant time. Cell broadcast, on the other hand, is a real-time, simultaneous, mass-reach technology; millions of people can receive alerts instantly. As such, an SMS alert service can actually harm more than help as there are many people “in the system” not receiving warnings.

• Cell Broadcasting does not over-utilize/monopolize network capacity in the way SMS alerts do when being sent to every subscriber in the country. During a crisis, when phone usage spikes, this use of SMS alerts on mobile can actually lead to network collapse.