So just do not get rid of: why SMS-mailings do not want to give in the era of digital

For the first time I ran into the SMS mailing business exactly 10 years ago, having got a job at a small SMS provider. What was the newsletter market then? Wild West in vague expectations that the sheriff will come soon and disperse all, but you can still shoot, fight and brawl.


Over the past time, a lot has changed: the wild, but incredibly marginal market has civilized, took shape, and has become, of course, less profitable - and more complex. Having survived rumors about his own death, he is more alive than ever before: new technologies, new solutions have appeared, the competition has reached a new level. In this article, I would like to offer a retrospective look at how SMS mailings have changed and what awaits us in the near future.

How did it all begin?

For the SMS market, the analogue of the “wild nineties” was 2005–2008. The times were simple, there were no tools for sending trigger SMS yet. Therefore, all mailings were either marketing in its most primitive form, or generally pure and uncomplicated spam. On the other hand, even this was all incredibly profitable. SMS aggregators of that time bought wholesalers for 1-2 kopecks in bulk and sold at retail at 70: a 4900% margin required you to wipe the tears with dollar bills of arms barons and drug dealers.

2006: trigger SMS

Messages initiated by certain actions of the user or by predetermined conditions represent a more “civilized” type of distribution that has real customer benefits. Banks and taxi dispatch services began to use them extensively in 2006-2007. In 2008-2010, it came to other industries: delivery services, Internet commerce, etc. For 10 years, the volume of trigger SMS has radically increased. According to various sources, the mailings of only the five largest banks in the country reached 600 million messages per month in 2016.

2008: API development

How the market began to change technologically can be traced by the example of the development of the world leader Twilio and its API, introduced in 2007. Of course, APIs and web interfaces have been proposed before. But the correct, correct API: in different programming languages, with access to viewing the tariff, the cost of SMS, delivery status, balance through the API - for the first time it appeared to them, setting a new industry standard.

It is worth noting that now all the market leaders offer a more or less high-quality API. The difference between different companies in this boils down to nuances.

2010: two-factor authentication

Many people who are annoyed by SMS distribution have nothing against it and actively use SMS for authorization in various services and confirmation of payments. But this is also a type of SMS-mailing, and very massive!

For the first time, two-factor authentication of payments via SMS was introduced in 2001 by the Visa system. For a decade, it has become the industry standard for banks around the world. However, this technology has become truly mass after its adaptation by the largest services of Silicon Valley: in 2010, Google introduced two-factor authentication, in 2011, SMS with confirmation was sent to all Facebook users logged in from an unknown device. Now every second service that stores more or less sensitive information uses SMS confirmations for the security of its users.

2013: prices and HLR - operators make a "knight's move"

Until a certain time, cellular operators were not interested in small customers who send out via SMS gateways or the Internet, being engaged only in large customers. Operators have always preferred to go directly to the largest mailing list customers, reducing their total cost of sending messages in their network. Large customers - banks, network projects, retail, loyalty programs, start from millions and tens of millions of SMS per month. And there are dozens of such companies in Russia, if not more.

By 2013, much had changed: on the one hand, the market for mailings had grown quite large, on the other - there was a threat to the text messaging by the instant messengers, and the operators decided to move to action. Having explained this to the high cost of developing anti-spam filters, operators raised the price of SMS applicaton-to-peer tenfold, determined new interconnect rates (cost of shipping between different networks) and minimum prices for their networks.

However, a pleasant bonus for aggregators was that with the increase in the price of mailings, the demand for services such as HLR requests (checking the relevance of phone numbers) increased, because due to price increases, cleaning of databases became very relevant.

2014: SMS Spam Act

As of 2014, 76% of mobile phone users suffered from SMS spam. Of these, 65% regularly received SMS-mailing, and about 2% - advertising calls. In October 2014, a law was tightened in Russia obliging the initiators of the distribution - the customer or the operator himself - to obtain prior consent to receive it. Aggregators had to even more wool their customers by blocking illegal mailings. There was even talk that the SMS campaigns would die. But, as you can see, this did not happen.

For subscribers, these events turned out for the better: coupled with the efforts of the operators themselves, the new legislation, if not killed by SMS spam, reduced it by orders of magnitude. Spamming has become too risky - and just expensive.

2015: multi-channel has become a new trend

The appearance of instant messengers in many ways changed the rules of the game, when companies had a choice: to buy all SMS prices that go up or to search for their clients in instant messengers and write to them directly. Doesn't sound like that? That's right: until recently, messengers were just spam. And remain so in whatsapp. However, with Viber, the situation changed two years ago with the advent of Viber for Business: the built-in legal mailing tool. Almost simultaneously with its appearance, the service introduced anti-spam algorithms, including blocking numbers from which messages were sent to more than 200 numbers.

Due to the traditional popularity of "Viber" in Russia, this is especially convenient for customers from the CIS countries. SMS providers have become the choice between the distribution channels - regular SMS or Viber - from last year.

The huge advantage of using instant messengers, in addition to lower prices compared to SMS, is the ability to make multimedia messages: videos, stickers, pictures, links with previews directly in the application. With the advent of instant messengers and multi-channels, the assortment of SMS aggregators has become fashionable, stylish, youth.
- Ruslan Naurzalin, founder of

Interestingly, in 2017, WhatsApp is planning to launch messaging for business.

Why SMS aggregators are very much alive?

Despite the attempts of operators to crush the SMS market for themselves and the margin, which has decreased from “yes, you earn so much” to “nothing, in the West all businesses work like this”

Quo vadis: the future of SMS messaging

Now there is a process of fragmentation of channels for the user to receive messages: the business seeks to reach its customers in any way possible. At some point, obviously, the process should go in the opposite direction.

A modern advanced user uses about a dozen different applications: several instant messengers, mail, dating applications, game chats, etc. - and everywhere they go messages. Of course, this cannot go on forever. Attempts to combine different channels into one are already being made on a PC. Until working and popular mobile solutions so far away. Maybe this will happen at the level of mobile OS - who knows? Let's see how the messaging industry will continue to develop - and how this will affect the future of commercial mailings.


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