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Teething Troubles For Google’s SMS Channels In India; Battle At The SMSC

Update: Appears to be working fine now

If you’re a publisher who has set up a Google SMS Channel, it’s likely that you already know about this: Google has been having problems delivering SMS / text alerts since the launch. Some messages aren’t being picked up from the RSS feeds, they’re being delivered as much as a day late, or aren’t being delivered at all. We’ve faced these issues with the channel we had set up, and readers have SMSed us regarding undelivered messages (they’ve had to “poke” for updates), not just from the MediaNama channel, but also from Google News.

It’s likely that the problem is with the overburdened SMS Center (SMSC), which routes all the SMS traffic on an operators network. Below is a simple diagram of how SMS’ are sent and received in an operator network, for both pull and push services.

SMS Center Chart

SMSCs can be both mobile operator managed, or set up by a third party. Assuming around 300 million SMS being delivered in India a day, that’s an average of around 3470 SMS being sent per second in India; some of the SMSCs of larger operators like Airtel, Idea and Vodafone will be handling substantially more traffic, and the number will obviously be higher for the daytime hours. As Thejo had mentioned in response to my comment on his blog, availability of bandwidth on the SMSC is huge issue, “one that will determine whether the service is going to do well.”

But the opportunity
The flexibility of converting RSS feeds to SMS’ is immense, and this is where Google has a distinct advantage. For example, you can take the RSS feeds for your GMail email, and create a separate, closed SMS channel, and set up an alert for every time you get a new mail. Similarly, you can do a Google News search, say, for “Lewis Hamilton”, and add that RSS feed to a separate Google SMS Channel. And you create your own news alert. Just like Google offers email alerts, I wouldn’t be surprised if they began offering SMS alerts of their service directly to users, without them having to manually set up an SMS channel.

But then there’s no point if you’re getting the alert a day late, or not at all.

Does MyToday Feel Threatened?
Rajesh Jain, MD of Netcore (MyToday) doesn’t think so. He tells WATBlog:

“When one is first in a market, there is bound to be competition sooner or later. In fact, in the coming months, I expect many more companies to enter this space. In the Internet too, IndiaWorld was the first portal (which I had launched in March 1995), and in the subsequent years we had various players enter the market. Over the subsequent years, many dropped out. IndiaWorld thrived, consolidated its market leadership position, and won…One (Google SMS) is a user-generated and ad hoc content, while we (MyToday) believe in offering editorial content with specific deliverables which help in creating habit in consumption as our recent Nielsen study (covering 5,000 users) had shown.”

What MyToday and GupShup have is a captive user base on SMS: that takes time to acquire, and people tend not to unsubscribe from free subscription services unless the spam becomes unbearable. It’s unlikely that one will cannibalize on the other, but for a publisher, the quality of the service is critical, and that battle will be won at the SMSC.

Related:

Google Gets Into The Push SMS Business In India, Takes On MyToday, SMS Gupshup
Analysis of the Cost of Push SMS Services

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