customer support text messaging conversation
avatarBy Armen Matosyan

A couple of days ago I tryed to login to my Mailchimp account which is protected by two-way authentication. Usually, before letting me in Mailchimp sends me a code via text message to make sure my account is secure. I am also motivated by the fact that they give me a 10% discount on my bill for using it. This time however, it did not work that easy. No matter how many times I pushed the Send Verification button and although Mailchimp ensured me that the code is on its way, my iPhone’s text message app remained silent for more than two days.

I have tried to contact Mailchimp support but given the rumour I received I know it might not help. It has been communicated that Rogers Wireless is considering to ban SMS messages from A2P (Application-to-Person) wireline telephone numbers to P2P Rogers Wireless subscribers beginning November 15th, 2017. Since Rogers Wireless does not participate in CTIA and it supposedly has not approved A2P use-cases to run on P2P numbers. Since this might be too much technical information for regular user to digest, I will try to explain in plain words and can’t avoid providing a short brief on terminology, evolution and current state of text messaging industry.

What is A2P Text Messaging

A2P text messaging coupons

First, what does A2P and P2P mean? In fact, everything is quite simple: Application to Person or A2P messaging is one-way text message to which recipients are not expected to reply. Examples are plenty: reminders, alerts, notifications. Sometimes junk text messages. P2P or Person to Person messaging, on the other hand is defined as two-way SMS or MMS messaging between two individuals. Most common use cases are free texting apps you can download on your mobile phone via App store or Google Play.

For a regular wireless subscriber, sending text message to another user is trivial. Just compose the message and hit send on your wireless device. The text will be instantly delivered for free, since unlimited text messaging is included in almost all wireless packages these days. The matter though is not quite straightforward when it comes to business users. Before the rebirth of text messaging technologies during the last decade, business text messaging was mainly a privilege of large corporations. The only available choice was dedicated short codes used predominantly to push one-way communication towards consumers. Being heavily regulated and carrying a hefty price tag, dedicated short codes were mostly out of reach for small businesses. The latter were content with either using their personal mobile phones or leasing a shared short code keywords for occasional marketing campaigns.

Recent Developments

Lately, however, the situation miraculously changed with introduction of so called long codes — regular 10 digit local phone numbers that can send and receive text messages. Cheap and less regulated than short codes these numbers allow anyone to tailor 160-word texts toward variety of innovative uses including but not limited to booking confirmations, flight alerts, banking updates, and more. Though designed for P2P communication and slower than short codes at one message per second, these numbers, nevertheless, open numerous opportunities to innovation.

Naturally, availability of cheap communication channel triggers the interest of not only innovators, but fraudsters as well. We all have been subject to daily spam text messages offering promotions or sending us to suspicious websites. Being cheap, accessible and not regulated, long codes are available to anyone and so it is not unusual to blast thousands of messages by purchasing hundreds of long codes. Hence, carriers across North America face significant challenges when trying to protect their customers by filtering, blocking or blacklisting the exposed long codes and junk message traffic.

Possible Reasons of This Decision

The most obvious reason for this decision might be the desire to stop junk messaging traffic and protect its customers. Apparently, most junk messaging originates from long codes since short code traffic is regulated by CWTA and carriers. Since there was no official announcement from Rogers Communications as to what specific measures will be undertaken and what will be affected, we have tried to separate the major types of messaging traffic reaching wireless customers today to understand what will be affected:

  • Legitimate A2P traffic: alerts, notifications, etc.
  • Illegal A2P traffic: junk marketing and unsolicited messages.
  • Legitimate P2P traffic originating for example from mobile apps.

We can only speculate what will happen on November 15, but we do hope that the restrictions will not affect legitimate A2P or P2P traffic. While the desire to fight illegal traffic is commendable, cutting down on legitimate traffic will have consequences for the rapidly developing industry and innovation in general and Rogers customers in particular. Let us examine just a few.

Implications of Banning A2P Text Messaging

One obvious implication that can affect all Rogers customers is the story with my Mailchimp account. Two-way authentication is a standard way of securing online accounts and resetting passwords for quite a long time. The reason behind this, unbelievably, is that if properly implemented, our good old text messaging technology can be very successful in ensuring that there is a real person behind online registration or account login. While a Caller ID for voice calls can be easily spoofed, faking your mobile phone number to send or receive a text messages is virtually impossible with today’s technology and existing regulations. Therefore, if this type of messaging traffic is blocked, Rogers customers who use two-way authentication for their accounts will either have to switch carriers or change to less secure login methods.

There are plenty of other legitimate uses for A2P applications, especially for business users on the budget. Dentists or optometrists can now send text messages reminding patients about an upcoming appointments and it will cost them pennies to do so. Parents can text schools to report kids absent instead of calling in. Libraries can send SMS reminders that books are due to be returned. Interactive exit polls or surveys managed via text messaging can provide instant insights when needed. The opportunities long codes offer are limitless. Blocking all A2P text messaging traffic without separating good from bad will mean isolating own customers and depriving them of benefits business messaging brings.

It also has been a common myth that text messaging died long time ago. Nevertheless, watch the industry closer next five years and you will see it is rising from the ashes like a phoenix. The scale of messaging innovation undergoing in the background is tremendous. Take alone the opportunities that text messaging API’s created in the industry for the last ten years opening up creative innovation opportunities. Consequently, there are little chances that any reputable organization would like to become an obstacle on the path of innovation and isolate itself from the booming industry that is already taking over the voice communication.

Is it possible to control junk messaging traffic?

Of course, junk messaging traffic should be stopped, or at least controlled. After all, having cheap and accessible communication method like long codes definitely creates an appetite for abuse. Yet, it is interesting to note that most junk text messaging traffic originates from outside of Canada. Hardly any reasonable organization in our country will take chances to blast junk marketing messages to its customers without permission — especially after CASL legislation came to a full force a couple of years ago. Therefore, the root of the problem lies with how, above all, these long codes are generally assigned, tracked and managed. One of the ideas that might work is to create a centralized database managed by an industry association that can maintain a centralized roster of whitelisted long codes by associating them with legitimate and identifiable local or foreign organizations. Through API’s or other methods the legitimate long codes and their respective owners can be whitelisted with carriers allowing text messages to pass through and in case of abuse instantly identify the source of suspicious traffic.

It is obvious though that this junk traffic is nothing but a headache for carriers. Surprisingly, long code messaging is also an area they don’t monetize on currently, while, to my honest opinion, there are plenty of opportunities. Legitimate messaging traffic owners will definitely want to work with carriers to ensure their traffic is delivered to the final destination without obstruction and pay a reasonable pass-through fee. Carriers, on the other hand, can use these funds to improve their infrastructure to support the industry growth.

I truly believe that a reasonable solution can be found in every setting. The matter boils down to how flexible involved parties are and if there is a political will to resolve the matter to the benefit of everyone involved. In this case, an acceptable solution can be noticeably seen and needs to be worked out albeit it might take time and effort. At the end of the day, who can stand against the power of innovation and progress?

PS: PS: This article was started on November 8, 2017 with the intent to publish it and create awareness around the topic. Today is November 13 and we’ve received a new message that Rogers Communication is reconsidering their original position and will not block A2P messages at this time and consider other methods to block spam traffic. No words that this is a wise decision and I am sure the industry will appreciate this great news and continue to work together to resolve issues we all face.

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