VoIP SMS Text Messaging

VoIP companies have been expanding their SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging capabilities over the last few years. In this article we will highlight some of the providers offering SMS to customers and detail some tricks to give the appearance of SMS support (hint: SMS to email conversions).

SMS Text Messaging for VoIP

Why do I need SMS?

In 2019 over 2 trillion text messages were exchanged, according to a 2019 CTIA study. Consumers have expectations that everyone can support SMS texts and this includes businesses. In fact a Twilio survey found that 8 out of 10 consumers want the ability to communicate with businesses using SMS texts rather than phone calls or emails.

The primary use cases for business SMS are as follows:

  1. Appointment reminders
  2. Order confirmations and deliveries
  3. Customer support and feedback
  4. Special deals and promotions
  5. Vacation updates (flight status, hotels, rental cars etc)

If you own a business, being able to support SMS (and its multimedia friend MMS), is now a necessity.

SMS and VoIP

Aware of the needs of their customers, VoIP companies have been integrating SMS texting capabilities into their communication systems. Some of the ways SMS is being used are as follows:

  1. Ability to send and receive SMS texts through an App or Web portal
  2. SMS notifications (notify a new voicemail has been received)
  3. Broadcasting SMS messages (B2B feature for sending appointment reminders)
  4. Instant messaging (between employees)
  5. Voicemail transcription to SMS

Ways to Send and Receive an SMS or MMS Message

We will now look at the various ways you can send and receive text messages for your business or residential VoIP service.

Before we dive into this let me briefly discuss how SMS messages are actually handled by VoIP companies. Your VoIP provider usually interfaces with multiple wholesale carriers over the Internet for both voice and texts. For the voice side it uses the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

Text messages to and from the wholesale side can also be sent using SIP but this usually is not the chosen method of communication for SMS, primarily because of the lack of retries should something go wrong. You can miss the occasional audio packet but for messages you typically want a more reliable mechanism that guarantees delivery. For this reason most VoIP providers use REpresentational State Transfer (REST) APIs (Application Programming Interface).

RESTful APIs make it easy for VoIP companies to send and receive text messages with their wholesale partners using well-defined and standardized computer programming methodologies.

Apps

Most VoIP companies either have their own Apps or take advantage of third party Apps available for iOS and Android devices, such as Bria Solo. Customers can download and sign into these Apps using credentials from the VoIP provider and use the App as an extension of their phone system to the mobile world. They can make and receive phone calls and more recently send and receive text messages all from inside their App.

For businesses, this is a very convenient way to communicate with customers. It uses your business Caller ID and allows you to send and receive SMS texts in a similar manner to the way you do this on your native cell phone.

This App can also be used as an Instant Messaging (IM) tool with others that share your phone system (i.e. other employees). The only difference between IM and SMS in this case is that the IMs stay inside the phone system since there is no need to send to the outside world as the phone system is already aware of each employee in the system. Real-time presence detect can also be used for the IMs, in other words set flags to say whether you are busy or available.

The Apps also typically support MMS (Multimedia Message Service) so you can send and receive audio, video and photographs between team members and also to the outside world.

Web Portal

Most VoIP companies have Web portals you can log into in order to configure your phone system. For example you can set up call forwarding, check voicemails, send faxes and much more.

Many providers now have full SMS and MMS messaging capabilities inside their Web portals. Simply log in to the portal and see incoming texts and send outgoing texts. You can also communicate with colleagues using IM. The Web portal can be a great way to handle all of your messaging needs, especially for those that do not want to install an App on their phone.

Desk Phones

Most IP phones have very basic messaging capabilities built into them. You can often configure your phone to send and receive text messages through your VoIP provider. It is best to talk to your provider to see if they can support this as the IP phones use the SIP Message protocol for this and not all providers support this feature.

SMS to Email

Providers that do not support SMS messaging sometimes offer a neat third party means of sending and receiving SMS messages, called SMS to email. Many wholesale companies offer this so it provides an easy way for VoIP providers to offer this feature to their customers with no development work required. When someone sends an SMS to your phone number, the wholesale carrier (or VoIP provider) converts the SMS message to an email and emails it to your address on file. To respond you simply reply to the email and it will be converted to SMS and sent to the phone number in question.

To send a new SMS text you just need to know the format to use for the email address. The subject line can be empty and is ignored. The message body is the information that will be sent over SMS. For example one well known wholesale company that works with many VoIP companies offers this service and uses the following format:

Email Address TO Field (F is FROM phone number i.e. yours and T is TO number i.e. who you're sending to)
F4253334444-T2065554444@mysmsforward.com

Voicemail to Email and SMS

If all you need SMS messaging for is voicemail notifications, we have one other trick up our sleeves. This should work even if your VoIP service does not support any SMS messaging. It is also easy to quickly test on your own.

Not many people realize that cell phone carriers actually have the ability to do SMS to email built into their service. If your VoIP service supports voicemail to email (and most do), for the email address enter your cell phone number in email format as shown below for each carrier (for yourcellnumber below use your actual cell phone number). If you can add multiple voicemail to email addresses in your Web portal we would recommend using your actual email address AND the cell phone email address below for completeness. We tested this on T-Mobile and it works surprisingly well. In fact it even attached the audio file to the SMS message that arrived on our cell phones.

Verizon
yourcellnumber@vtext.com
AT&T
yourcellnumber@txt.att.net
T-Mobile
yourcellnumber@tmomail.net
Sprint
yourcellnumber@messaging.sprintpcs.com

VoIP Companies Providing SMS Features

Business Providers

8x8

8x8 has full SMS support in the U.S and Canada using either their Virtual Office App or Desktop. At this time MMS is not supported, only SMS. You can receive messages from anywhere in the world but can only send messages in the U.S and Canada. Virtual numbers and toll free numbers cannot be used for SMS. Instant Messaging is supported within your company directory.

GoToConnect (formerly Jive)

GoToConnect (formerly Jive) supports SMS in their GoToConnect Mobile App. You can search for a contact's name, number or extension and send them a message (Instant Message for company contacts i.e. extensions inside your phone system and SMS for external contacts).

Ooma Office Pro

Ooma Office fully supports SMS messaging and recently added MMS (photos, videos etc) inside the Ooma Office App. You can send IMs and SMS messages depending on whether the contact is internal to your phone system or not. Remember you are texting using the company's main phone number and all users in your system can see all messages! You can also do group messages (up to 10 people) and there is a 2048 character limit on all outgoing texts. Toll free numbers cannot be used for SMS.

Residential Providers

Voiply

Voiply supports SMS to email (as described above) and also recently added SMS capabilities to the Voiply Online App. The App has limited functionality but allows you to make and receive calls and text messages. No MMS messages are supported at this time. The Voiply App is free to download and available to all customers.

VoIPo

Voipo has SMS capabilities but not for actually sending and receiving SMS messages. SMS is used for text notifications when you have a voicemail with limited text information (caller ID name and number, date and time and message length). Voipo also has an interesting SMS feature where you can send texts via your cell phone (must match details on file) to configure your account in real-time. We haven't come across other providers with this, so it's an interesting feature.

Final Thoughts

In this article we explained the reasons and benefits to using SMS for your business through your VoIP provider. We also highlighted the various ways providers offer this feature and some ways to take advantage of SMS even if your provider has limited capabilities on the SMS front. Finally we detailed some residential and business providers that offer SMS and MMS features today.

Do you find SMS useful for your business or have something to add? Let us know using our comments form below.

Published by WhichVoIP


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WhichVoIP Visitor Comments

#1 : Posted by Sam

I have a Bank of America account and I live outside the USA, in the Netherlands Antilles (region where roaming is defective). In order to connect to its website the bank sends me a code by SMS and I have to send it back still using my PC. I thought contact a US provider to buy a phone number and install an application in my smartphone to receive the SMS. But, in the FAQ of the bank, it says it cannot be to a VoIP line.

-> Response: So have you tried it and it did not work? I am not aware of any issues with SMS and VoIP, have used it many times. The other thing you can try is to see if the VoIP provider offers SMS to email. You can then just read the email for the code. Alternatively can you turn off SMS with the bank and make it email?

 

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