Connections +

The Sms Lesson

Carriers connected their SMS platforms a year ago. SMS traffic has been growing ever since. Are more connections needed?

April 1, 2003  

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Short Message Service — SMS for short — has been around since digital wireless phone networks were launched in Canada. But until very recently, this service — similar to two-way alphanumeric paging — has generated very little interest among subscribers.

Over the past year, however, the Canadian wireless industry has witnessed rapid growth in SMS traffic. Subscribers are embracing the technology: The most recent figures available show Canadian wireless networks are transmitting more than 20 million of these tiny messages from phone to phone each month. What’s going on?


Many factors have contributed to this growth — including the continued strong growth of wireless use in general and the availability of more phones able to send and receive SMS messages, particularly as older models are replaced with the latest devices.

But arguably the biggest driver of growth was the decision in November 2001 by wireless network operators to interconnect their SMS platforms through a common gateway.

The gateway was put into service in April 2002 and created a seamless SMS environment in Canada. (In January of this year, that environment was extended to include all of North America as Canadian and U.S. carriers interconnected their SMS platforms.) Much of the organizational work was facilitated through the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Canada’s wireless companies have long known that the value of a network to its users increases exponentially as more users are connected to it. This is one of the basic laws of networking, and the SMS experience is just one of many examples that prove its validity. The willingness to cooperate on SMS has generated additional traffic for all the companies involved.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Imagine if wireless phones could only connect to other phones on the same network. If Bell Mobility customers could call other Bell Mobility customers — but couldn’t connect to Rogers Wireless, Telus Mobility or Microcell Telecom subscribers, or even customers of Bell Canada’s wired services — mobile phones would have been a whole lot less useful, and Canadians would have been much slower to embrace them. But until the gateway was turned on, this was the case with SMS.


Additional SMS traffic is not the only benefit of the common platform. Network operators now have in place the infrastructure and the inter-carrier agreements they need to develop a number of additional SMS-driven revenue opportunities. Interconnection of Canada’s SMS platform with those of the major U.S. carriers is one example that has already taken place.

And this year, Canadian wireless service providers plan to introduce a number of new applications and services — and therefore new revenue opportunities — all of which depend on the common environment enabled by the SMS gateway. If all goes as expected, Canadians will soon be able to use SMS Short Code services to request songs from their favourite radio station, provide feedback to newsrooms on issues of the day, receive weather, traffic and other timely information on demand, and so on.

Perhaps more importantly, the SMS experience provides wireless companies with a concrete example of cooperation that resulted in real, measurable results. Hopefully, it will encourage companies to look at other areas where they can work together while remaining competitive.

For example, as demand increases for mobile data services in Canada, it’s likely carriers will have to build more antenna sites to increase capacity, extend reach and fill coverage holes. Some work has been done: for example, to provide seamless in-building coverage in office towers.

But cooperation may be the key to addressing future network needs in an economically viable manner — to the benefit of everyone.CS

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached (including via SMS) at 416-878-7730 or

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