Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Importance of Carrier Compliance

Last week Clickatell sent an urgent notification to their clients in the USA:

We are experiencing significant connectivity problems resulting in non-delivery of messages to U.S. destinations. We do not currently have an ETA for resolution. We will issue a more formal statement soon.”

It didn't take long for them to realize that the wireless carriers had decided to disconnect virtually all of their USA short codes, blocking all incoming and outgoing SMS traffic. Carriers routinely audit short codes to ensure that the services are carrier compliant, and a short code can potentially be disconnected if a compliance issue is not resolved in a timely fashion, but this is the first time that I have seen a leading SMS gateway provider have all of their USA short codes disconnected at once.

I have worked with Clickatell for several years and it is a top-notch company. They have a long history in the worldwide SMS business and have built one of best international SMS gateway services in the world. It is unfortunate that the individual wireless carriers would take such immediate and draconian actions, I can only assume that the infraction must have been pretty serious.

Typically a carrier will first issue an “audit violation” when they find an SMS service to be non-compliant. The application provider or short code lessee is then given a period of time to bring the service into compliance. In only a few extreme cases have I heard of immediate disconnections, and never an across the board disconnection of multiple short codes.

Clickatell states the problem arose from the abuse of the platform by “a handful of rogue customers making use of shared shortcodes”. Herein lies the risk of using shared short code services. When there are a large number clients running services on one short code without sufficient safeguards in place it is only a matter of time before something falls out of compliance and the carriers take notice.

Back in 2004 Unwired Appeal deployed a US-based shared short code service with attached self-provisioning platform. Clients could go online and set-up their own SMS alerts, voting events, text-to-win sweeps, and trivia games in just minutes. Back then there was little regulation as the carriers were still working on their standards and the Mobile Marketing Association had yet to open their USA office. But the environment rapidly became much more strict with new carrier requirements coming out every week. It was quickly apparent that it would be impossible to allow customers to deploy their own SMS service and keep them all compliant. So UA pulled the self-provisioning service from the market.

But there are quite a few providers out there offering fairly unrestricted use of shared short codes, often with attached self-provisioning services. Its hard to see how they can keep everything within compliance, but its pretty clear how serious the consequences can be when they don't.

- Steve Nye

Postnote: Things a looking up a bit as I had a note yesterday that Clickatell has managed to reconnect their clients' dedicated short codes to all major carriers except Sprint/Nextel. It seems that their shared codes remain on the sideline for the time being though.

(you can read the Clickatell FAQ here


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