A Brief History of A2P Messaging

From telephone to allrounder – hardly any everyday object has gained as much importance and functions as the mobile phone. We use it every day for communication of all kinds and let the little jack-of-all-trades take care of some tasks for us. Companies also talk to us by sending SMS or other messages. They let us know when our bus is late, confirm our registration on that next cool social media platform or remind us of our dentist appointment. These messages are so called A2P messages. A2P means “Application to Person”, since the messages are sent via applications, often in an automated process. The following article will give an overview of how A2P messages got to our smartphones.

How it all began

There once was a time when a mobile phone was meant to make mobile calls. Period.
However, when a mobile phone standard (GSM) was to be developed, the foundation was laid for a very different application. In 1984, some of the developers involved thought about how free capacities in the network could be used effectively. A little later the first concept of SMS was born.

If you want to know more about the origins of SMS, you can read a German Spiegel interview with Friedhelm Hillebrand, who created the first concept of SMS back then.

You have one (1) new message!

However, a few more years were to pass, before the first SMS was sent. It was not until 1992 that Neil Papworth from Great Britain sent Christmas greetings to his colleague. Ironically, by the way, this was done from a computer, because Papworth, like the recipient, lacked an input facility for text on his phone. What followed this simple message was a success story that none of the developers had expected.

Even though today OTT apps (apps that send messages without the detour via a provider) are increasingly displacing SMS from person-to-person communication (P2P, also peer-to-peer), SMS are still extremely successful in A2P communication. This is no surprise, because there are many ways to use SMS as a business tool. Possibilities range from securing confidential data (for example through 2-factor authentication) to running marketing campaigns. In addition, OTT apps only ever reach the people who have installed the respective app. SMS, on the other hand, are carried out to every mobile phone.

SMS sent in Germany
1 billion
in the year 2000
1 billion
in the year 2006
1 billion
in the year 2012

The beginnings of A2P messaging

When it became apparent around the year 2000 that the popularity of SMS as a means of communication would increase, companies also began to use it for their own purposes. This need of companies resulted in what we know today as A2P messaging: Messages that are sent from an application to the end recipient.

Of course, these messages were not usually sent one-by-one: They needed an SMS gateway. In the beginning, GSM modules were used to send many SMS at once. Even today, the modules need about 2 seconds to send one SMS. This does not sound very long at first, but in practice it is not uncommon that 50,000 SMS are sent at once. Including the transmission reports, the modems effectively handles 100,000 SMS. If the provider operates 25 GSM modems, it takes more than two hours to send all of them. Therefore, sending via GSM modems is rather unsuitable for mass SMS and time-sensitive messages,. In any case, it was more important than ever to plan the SMS dispatch very precisely in terms of time.

Modern SMS gateways

In fact, there are still GSM modules available today. However, these days they are rather used for tracking and locating purposes, for example in truck fleets. The standards for sending A2P SMS has become much more modern. Not only do web services send SMS faster, they also offer many more functions for the consumer and are more flexible. It is no surprise that they are way out in front of the competition today.

If you want to read a more detailed comparison between GSM modules and web services, you can get more information here.

Modern A2P messaging

Today, A2P communication has become so commonplace that many of us no longer perceive it in a differentiated way. The SMS announcing that the train is late, an appointment reminder from our dental office and of course the code for resetting our forgotten password. Have you gone through recovering an Instagram password via your phone? There’s your SMS.

Especially in the USA marketing via SMS is common practice. For example, a restaurant could send out an SMS requesting customers to show the message when they visit the restaurant. If they do so, they get a free drink with their meal. Of course, companies also use SMS to send promo codes, links to their new landing page or simply to point out a sale. The sky is the limit when it comes to imagining fun campaigns.

Examples for SMS as A2P messages

The Future: Big Player RCS vs. Multichannel Messaging

Since 2018, the expansion of RCS has been supported by Google. It is not surprising that the tech giant would like to have a slice of the pie: The Rich Communication Service offers many of the advantages that SMS also offer, but meets the multimedia requirements of the users. At least in theory, in practice RCS still shows massive weaknesses, especially in the area of security. If these weaknesses are eliminated, it is quite conceivable that RCS will become a big player in A2P messaging. It is important to note that as of now RCS is not encrypted end-to-end. Therefore, all the big security fans out there will not even consider RCS for P2P communication.

Another future scenario is that a detailed form of multichannel marketing will prevail. Here, companies know the needs of recipients so well that they can send them automated messages via the channel desired by the customer – whether this is SMS, Whatsapp (Business) or Facebook Messenger.
Sounds great? Sure. But this type of communication is very complex and brings with it potential data protection problems, especially due to the international app operators. Last but not least, it is currently the most cost-intensive solution, as contracts have to be concluded with several messaging providers.

In both scenarios, the reason why SMS is such a popular communication tool for A2P will continue to be valid in the future: SMS are perceived as spam a lot less, are read much more often than messages in other channels and do not require an internet connection or apps. It is possible that in all the above scenarios SMS will be used as a fallback option if the message cannot be delivered via the respective messenger.

The future is colourful

A2P messaging has come a long way, but the future holds many exciting possibilities for this type of communication. It is very likely that the sending of messages via web services will continue to increase, it’s just not sure in what form. In any case, communication between companies and their customers will be more personalized in the future and probably automated to some degree. Multimedia content will be particularly in demand, but the security of communication will also continue to play a major role

We are curious to see the future!

Best wishes
Your sms77 team
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