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Sorting Out the Options for Mass Text Notifications

Posted by Paul Desmond

Jan 21, 2015


It’s winter in New England and those of us with school-age children know that when snow is in the forecast we may get a rude awakening: a 5:30 a.m. phone call from the school superintendent telling us school is cancelled or delayed. Just to make sure, that will be followed by a text message and an email with the same news.

In my town, these messages go out via a reverse 911 system. It’s quite effective at spreading news of such important events. Pretty much unavoidable, even (although to be fair you can limit the ways in which the school contacts you).

More and more enterprises are now using similar notification systems to handle everything from everyday company news to emergency notifications. It’s an effective means for keeping employees, suppliers, customers and students informed, especially during a crisis or other important event.

In this post, we’ll take a look at three options for text-based mass notifications, namely:

  • Using the SMS protocol

  • Email to text using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)

  • Secure mobile text

SMS: Simple but Potentially Costly

SMS, for Short Message Service, allows for short messages – 160 characters or less – to be sent over a cellular phone network to a recipient’s mobile device. Because it uses the cellular network, there is a cost associated with both sending and receiving SMS messages.


When using SMS for mass notifications, you’ll likely want to use an SMS aggregator, which can charge up to 10 cents per message, along with a monthly fee. Bulk plans can bring the costs down considerably, however, to as low as a penny each.

Unless they have an unlimited texting plan, recipients also have to pay to receive the messages, or at least have them counted against their monthly total. If the company pays the cellular phone bill for its employees, then this cost should be factored in to the bill for the messaging solution.

SMTP-based Email to Text: Be Wary of Spam Filters

Using SMTP enables a company to send messages addressed to the cellular device’s email address. To send a text message to an AT&T cell phone user, for example, the format would be: cell-number@txt.att.net.

That, of course, means you need to know which cellular network each of your intended recipients is using, which will quickly prove difficult in a BYOD environment or if you want to send messages to customers and partners.

The good news is that going the SMTP route is free for the sender, while standard message rates apply for recipients.

The bad news is the messages sent in bulk may well get blocked by spam filters that carriers set up at their SMS gateways. For that reason alone, this method is not really suitable for mass notification.

Secure Mobile Texting: Most Reliable and Flexible

Which brings us to the third method, using a secure mobile text protocol. These require the company set up a subscription and for recipients to download an app for their phone or tablet, but offer some key benefits.

Depending on the provider, secure mobile messages are often guaranteed to be delivered – a key differentiator from the other two methods. Messages will queue on the message server until the recipient device is in range of a cellular or Wi-Fi signal, at which time the message will be delivered.

Also, unlike SMS, secure mobile messages are not restricted to 160 characters and can include multi-media content.  Again, that’s an important differentiator, especially if you need to communicate critical emergency information.

I know the school department in my town uses a secure message service – and I can attest that it works very well. When the phone rings at 5:30 a.m., some would say too well.



Topics: Technology, Business Case, Best Practices, Messaging

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