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Challenges MNOs Face with Emergency SMS

Natural disasters like earthquakes or public safety concerns like war create an everlasting need for governments to have alerting systems that can warn all of their citizens in short periods of time. Historically, they have called on telecommunications companies (MNOs) to be the vessel for their messages. To this end, MNOs’ utilize two different alerting technologies: the Cellular Broadcast (CB) and the Emergency SMS (E-SMS).

This article will discuss the Emergency SMS technology, which facilitates sending mass SMS broadcasts to many mobile subscribers at a time. The focus will be on the many challenges that MNOs may face with E-SMS.

The challenges we discuss are:

  • The complexity of creating recipient lists from subscriber data,

  • Resource constraints from sending large quantities of SMS messages,

  • Regulatory frameworks governments impose on E-SMS,

  • Adjusting speeds to fit various network infrastructures.

Challenge #1: Complexity of creating a recipient list

Risk of errors in uploading critical MSISDN lists cannot be overlooked. Human errors during data entry or formatting might lead to incorrect recipient information, hampering the timely delivery of emergency SMS. Beyond the risks of errors that may arise during the upload process, the compilation of accurate target subscriber lists poses a significant challenge.

Time is of the essence in emergency scenarios, and the lengthy process of gathering data, - for instance, the updated list of all subscribers - from multiple departments or sources to form comprehensive and accurate subscriber lists can be too time-consuming and complex.

A further layer of complexity emerges when an emergency occurs within a specific geographical area, like a city or a town. In such a case, operators need to compose a list targeting the audience who’s currently residing within that region.

Subscriber information is often dispersed across different departments or databases within an organization. Coordinating and consolidating these fragmented data sources into a unified, reliable list for SMS broadcasting during emergencies is a challenge. To overcome this challenge, it’s necessary to regularly verify and update E-SMS lists to ensure they contain the most recent and relevant subscriber information.

Due to the dynamic nature of data and potential discrepancies between various databases, maintaining audience lists becomes a continuous effort. If a verification process is not carried out regularly, the E-SMS system won’t be ready to send out its messages when an emergency breaks out. The time required to collect, verify, and consolidate data from multiple sources, or even from a single source, might delay the initiation of the SMS broadcast. Any delay in the E-SMS broadcast system will stop critical information from reaching affected individuals or communities.

Another concern is related to collecting proper target lists. In case an MNO is using the E-SMS service of a dedicated telecom software company, they will have to open up their subscriber data to third-party companies. Collecting target audience data from diverse departments raises concerns about data privacy and security as well. Ensuring compliance with data protection regulations while aggregating information from different sources adds another layer of complexity to the process.

Defne E-SMS Center fixes many of these problems by integrating into the MNO’s database and updating subscriber lists by default while keeping information secure by keeping it in-house. To learn more about how Defne E-SMSc overcomes these challenges, read the next article in this series!

Challenge #2: System overload for bulk SMS

Existing infrastructures of MNOs that are specialized for bulk SMS are not suitable for large E-SMS broadcasts. Even though they can reach many subscribers at once, they don’t have the capacity and customizability that E-SMS requires. It’s one thing to send ad campaigns to multiple subscribers at once when it’s business as usual. But to be able to send SMSes to the whole country while the crisis skyrockets the demand on the network, is another thing entirely.

Existing platforms may encounter resource saturation when SMS demand abruptly increases. Especially in emergencies that can’t be predicted in advance, like earthquakes or hurricanes, governments will want to send large amounts of E-SMS at once, which will be even more difficult with the increased demand coming from the subscribers.

People calling their loved ones over the phone to check on their well-being will cause an even greater surge in network usage. Additional telecom services will add to the load since phone calls will trigger many associated services such as voice mails or missed call notifications, which are all sent over SMS! This will further lock up the resources allocated to the SMS.

Consequently, delays in message delivery will occur, potentially leading to a backlog of messages awaiting processing. Resource saturation not only impacts SMS delivery but also affects other crucial services operating on the same platform. As the system contends with managing the exceptional volume of SMS traffic, the performance of other critical processes might be affected, creating a ripple effect on overall communication reliability. Issues of delay due to resource saturation result in significant delays in message transmission. This delay can range from a few seconds to several minutes, significantly affecting recipients' timely access to critical information.

Existing Bulk SMSC, or the SMSC handling queued A2P messages, might not have sufficient capacity to send urgent messages to the public within a short timeframe. The pressure on existing platforms might reach a critical point, leading to system overload or complete collapse. This scenario represents the worst-case scenario where the system becomes incapable of handling additional messages, resulting in a complete breakdown of communication channels.

Challenge #3: Compliance with regulatory frameworks

Meeting regulatory requirements while ensuring timely and compliant SMS content during emergencies poses significant complexities. Failure to comply can have legal repercussions, impacting the delivery of emergency messages. Emergency SMS initiatives must align with a myriad of regulatory frameworks and compliance standards set forth by governmental bodies, telecommunications authorities, and data protection regulations.

These regulations often dictate the permissible content, timing, and targeting criteria for emergency messages. Crafting emergency SMS content that meets legal requirements while being concise, informative, and timely is paramount. Striking a balance between providing essential information and adhering to stringent character limitations within a limited time frame during emergencies poses a challenge.

In certain emergencies, ensuring government body consent before sending emergency SMS is mandatory. Obtaining and managing consent or approval mechanisms adds complexity to the process, especially during urgent situations.

Challenge #4: Adjusting speeds for constrained situations

Defne's Emergency SMSC provides high speeds for E-SMS in the challenging situations discussed above, however there are situations where the framework that provides high speeds can be a hindrance instead. By customizing its solution to work in such situations as well, this challenge is overcome.

Defne E-SMSC can reach messaging capacities within 10,000 - 50,000 messages per second (even more), depending on network capabilities available. There are various aspects to be considered when positioning such a product within the network. Sending mass SMS to millions of subscribers within a 15-20 minute timeframe would require throughput of ‘messages sent to network’ that’s around 10K or 20K MPS.

When it comes to sending messages to a less populated district, sending messages at such high throughputs could lead to congestion in the radio network. Therefore, it is expected that the system would automatically decide to send messages at a lower speed based on the target audience size.

General Considerations for E-SMS Center Technologies

To perform best in such situations, E-SMS Center technologies should apply automatic pacing when transmitting massive amounts of messages, considering the potential congestion that might occur in the network. Simultaneously, they should possess critical features such as caching for various data so data lookup and other data acquisition processes will not soak up much resources, and each E-SMS can be sent with minimal resources.

Learn more about how Defne E-SMSC handles these challenges by reading the next article in this series and downloading Lightpaper at our website!


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