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Messaging has the power to re-define the way businesses talk to their customers. So said a panel convened by MEF to analyse the potential of the medium…

In any discussion of the extraordinary success of Uber, does anyone ever mention messaging?

Unlikely. But when you think about it, the essence of Uber’s proposition – a cab you can summon in minutes – wouldn’t be possible without a text from the car to say: “Your ride has arrived”.

So it is that ‘old fashioned’ SMS sits at the heart of a unicorn recently valued at over $60 billion. And it has to be SMS because no other messaging channel is as ubiquitous or reliable. Of course, Uber did not negotiate agreements with every MNO in the world (or at least where it operates).

Instead, it worked with Twilio, a firm that gives app developers an API that lets the app make voice calls and send texts with software.

Doug Gardner, global head of carrier relations at Twilio, talked about the immense benefit of messaging to companies like Uber during a panel session hosted by MEF at Mobile World Congress earlier this year.

“Do developers know the rules around messaging? No. But they do have great ideas around how to improve workflow. So they use a company like Twilio,” he said.

“It’s all about getting communications in the right context at the right time. In the case of Uber, when a car is out front you really want that message. That’s the kind of innovation that we’re seeing and what enterprises are tapping into. They’re taking a legacy communications system and bringing it into contemporary software development. When you do that, you get terrific customer experiences out of it.”

While Twilio looks after messaging within the developer community, others are focusing on the growing interest from large enterprises.

Interest in so-called application-to-person (A2P) SMS messaging is growing. Transparency Market Research recently projected the value of the global A2P market to grow from $53.07 billion in 2013 to $70.32 billion by 2020.

Matt Hooper, SVP of global marketing at IMI Mobile, believes A2P SMS has the potential to impact all corners of industry.

“In the enterprise domain, there still aren’t that many who are making messaging part of the customer journey. That’s a huge opportunity,” he said.

Watch the MEF Messaging Workshop panel discussion in full

“For example, messaging could redefine the contact centre. We talk to a lot of these centres and they want to use messaging especially in areas like in collections and appointment bookings and so on. This is redefining things we thought were simple. And it’s still such an new market.”

Javier Sainz, head of carrier relations at OpenMarket, agreed: “We have four out of the world’s top 10 brands working with us and they are really eager to use SMS… but there are weaknesses… we have to offer them reliability or they will look to a different channel.”

The panel conceded that there is not enough clarity around what constitutes best practice in messaging at the moment.

Gardner gave a powerful example of how a lack of consistency plays out in the real world.

He said: “Let’s say a developer builds an app and it’s a hit. It gets a million downloads. But then the users can’t authenticate to the app. The developer calls us and asks ‘what did I do wrong’? We have to tell them (the messaging) is not consistent with how the operators want the ecosystem to run, so they need to go down a different route to validate their users.

“When they already have one million users – that’s the wrong time to find out that this choice of communication was the wrong choice. So we all need to know the rules ahead of time…the trouble is my ability to divine that now is almost zero.“

One commonly cited reason for the lack of clear information is that operators themselves cannot agree internally on the best practice. For example, it may be that one department is committed to selling as many M2M chips as possible, while another is committed to combating fraud. The two departments have very different agendas.

Now, there is fresh determination to tackle this. The panel was speaking ahead of the launch of the MEF’s industry programme The Future of Messaging. The aim of the project is to encourage debate and to establish best practices that make messaging consistent and reliable for enterprises and end-users.

James Lasbrey, global business leader, Wholesale SMS, Telefonica, agreed that operators probably have not focused on the consistency issue in the past.

He said: “Some things are termed fraud but they’re not really because the operators haven’t clearly stated their Ts and Cs. So, for example, whether SIMs can only be sold for consumer use… That’s the reason for this initiative. We have a huge opportunity here. Unless we fix this, and we educate the market nothing will change.”

Sign up now to MEF’s Mobile Messaging Programme – The Future of Messaging. A cross-ecosystem approach to accelerate market clean-up and advance innovation. Find out more and download the free A2P messaging fraud framework now