Most mobile phone users send and receive SMS and MMS messages all day, blissfully unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes to get those plain text and multimedia messages from origin to destination. That’s because in their eyes, sending and receiving messages are one-step processes that happen in a split second.
And that’s more or less true when one person texts another. What they don’t realize is that when they receive SMS and MMS messages from brands, the important role one or more aggregators play in ensuring that the messages get from the brand to their mobile device quickly and successfully.
What Is an SMS Aggregator?
An SMS Aggregator (sometimes called an SMS Gateway) is an organization with the technology to collect or ‘aggregate’ a large volume of text messages from brands and distribute them to wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) for delivery to the consumer’s mobile device.
Aggregators serve a crucial role in the mobile ecosystem to help standardize the way in which businesses and applications communicate with consumers. Without an aggregator, the carrier networks would be left to sort out those details on their own across multiple millions of SMS and MMS text messages every day.
Every text message sent outside of the peer-to-peer network will be touched by an aggregator, which not only sets up the relationship between the carrier network and the text messaging software provider but also provides the gateway connection needed to transmit those messages from sender to recipient.
Here’s how it works:
- Unlike email, where messages flow through the pipes of an internet network, a mobile device is tied to a single carrier.
- When someone sends a message from one person to the next—and even across carriers—the carriers sort out the messages between themselves and forward it to one another.
- The process works differently for an organization sending out 1 million SMS text messages to current and prospective customers.
- That company will work with a third party to send the messages, and an aggregator subsequently steps in to divvy up the messages across different carriers in a logical manner.
- Acting as a direct connectivity pipe to those carriers, the aggregator may send a batch of 250,000 messages to four different carriers (e.g., T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Boost Mobile).
With the right aggregator in your corner, you can simplify the process of building and maintaining connections with wireless carriers, speed up the campaign onboarding process, and have just one point of contact with your third-party service provider.
Not All SMS Aggregators Are the Same
SMS aggregation has been around for about 25 years, during which time the sector has fragmented into two distinctly different “tiers.” Tier 1 aggregators connect directly to both the top wireless networks and the smaller cellular carriers. This ensures that both SMS and MMS messages take the fastest path from your company to its customers. There are only four companies that have direct connection to all major U.S. carriers—Vibes being the only independent one left.
Tier 2 aggregators (aka, “sub-aggregators") do not have direct connections with the carriers and instead work with third parties to send and receive your messages. They only have access to SMS messages, which are sent on their behalf by those third parties. This puts you at least one additional step away from the carriers that are handling your message delivery and you will find yourself paying more for the middleman.
“There are a lot of players out there right now calling themselves SMS aggregators,” says Robert Charney, Director, Business Operations at Vibes, which is one of just four Tier 1 aggregators. “But any Tier 2 provider probably has to make several ‘hops’ before it can get those to the carrier for distribution.”
Why Tier 1 Matters for Your Business
By working with a Tier 1 aggregator, you gain access to a variety of benefits that help you be successful with your SMS marketing:
- Better connection speeds. Tier 1 aggregators get the highest throughput between the carriers and the messaging providers, resulting in a higher level of successful messages sent.
- A two-way communication stream between the aggregator and carrier. For example, if an aggregator needs the “pipes opened up” for a high volume of messages for a specific campaign, the carrier will do that for them.
- Proactive technical support. If there’s a technical issue at the carrier level, the Tier 1 aggregator is likely well aware of the problem and able to address it proactively (versus waiting to be alerted to the problem and reacting to it).
- Faster provisioning for Short Codes and SMS and MMS campaigns. Tier 1 aggregators handle the submission process for short codes, which allow companies to use the special 5- or 6-digit telephone numbers for high-throughput, two-way SMS and MMS messaging. Vibes also enforces the short code compliance regulations set by the CTIA and individual carriers. Without direct connections to the carriers, Tier 2 aggregators can’t handle those intricacies on your behalf. In addition to Short Code provisioning management, Vibes reviews program briefs quickly and can generally get a campaign provisioned within 4-6 weeks (versus 2-6 months for a Tier 2 aggregator).
- More streamlined troubleshooting. With Tier 1 aggregators there’s less hassle for you when troubleshooting since it's all handled with one support team vs. multiple support teams with both the software company and the third party. For example, let's say there are service interruptions. Indirect connections with wireless carriers means these service interruptions are harder to find and resolve when they occur and messages must go through an additional organization, data centers, and at least one more API to reach their destination. The fewer cooks in the kitchen, the better.
- Global reach. If you send text messages outside of the U.S. Tier 1 will ensure they are received, even at a large scale.
- Better pricing for messages. Having an extra link in the chain means someone is taking an additional slice of the message fee, likely inflating your pricing.
In summary, if you care about message reliability, speed, price, and want an overall peace-of-mind knowing your messages will reach the intended recipients in a timely manner, you want to partner with a Tier 1 Aggregator.
Common Customer Service Roadblocks
Aggregators don’t always provide the level of service you would expect. There’s nothing worse than sending an email, submitting a help ticket or opening a chat box, only to be met with the sound of crickets. If this happens during a crisis, or during a time when you really need the support in order to make a quick decision, the time gap can be downright agonizing.
Here are 4 customer service roadblocks to look out for
- No Direct Phone Number: Some don’t offer customer service phone numbers, so there’s no one to call when you have a question or a problem. If you’re new to mobile, you probably have some basic questions that need answering. Good luck with that if there’s no one to call on the other end.
- Different Time Zones: While you may get someone to email you back, it might be at 4:00 am your time. Make sure you understand what hours and time zone their custom service team operates in.
- Impersonal: Others only offer a “self-serve” model that includes online chat or automated interactions handled by bots, which can escalate frustration levels when you encounter a problem with your SMS campaign.
- Lack of Industry Knowledge: Often times, support agents do not have the institutional knowledge or industry expertise to address your technical questions. They will have to make “one more” call to get the issue fixed. At Vibes, each team member has 10+ years of experience in mobile messaging and knows the right person at each major carrier who can solve the problem.
If your aggregator doesn’t have a team of knowledgeable experts standing by, ready to help, then you’ll just be back at square one.
8 Questions to Ask When Selecting an SMS Aggregator
Just because an aggregator says they are Tier 1 doesn’t mean they are a reliable provider. Before selecting your SMS aggregator, ask your prospective partner these questions:
- Are you directly connected to carriers and do you have relationships with the Big 3 carriers (T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon)? If the answer is no, you’re probably talking to a Tier 2 aggregator. Some might say they are a Tier 1 SMS aggregator through a partnership - which is the very definition of indirect connections - which is why it's important for you to know if they have direct technical AND commercial relationships with the carriers or if they are using a third-party aggregator to get that connectivity.
- Of the carriers you don’t have direct connections with, who do you use for those gaps? It’s typical for aggregators to use other partners for smaller, regional carriers. Remember, it’s your traffic that will be running through them, so you deserve to know the reliability of who’s carrying each one of your messages.
- Can I speak with a few of your existing customers? During the conversations, be sure to ask how long provisioning took and what their biggest pain points were. Any extended timelines for the review of program briefs, feedback and/or provisioning may be potential red flags.
- What is your general response time for service? Ideally, your aggregator should send you a quick response (i.e., “We received your request and we’re looking into it”) within an hour or two of submitting the ticket. Resolutions will vary based on the problem, but your aggregator should at least send that initial response quickly and then follow up with updates as they become available.
- How does your ticketing, incident management, and maintenance notification process work? When you open up a ticket with Vibes, there’s always going to be a real “person” there to talk to and interact with. If the aggregator you’re interviewing uses an automated system for these interactions, it may be another potential red flag.
- What’s your compliance and provisioning teams’ level of experience? You’ll ideally want to work with someone who has years of experience in the field, and that didn’t just start working for the company yesterday.
- What’s the average tenure of the team that’s managing carrier relationships? Again, look for a company whose carrier management team has an average tenure of at least 5-10 years.
- Can I speak with the person who handles short-code provisioning? If you’re going to be using short codes, talking to this person will help you gain a better understanding of their experience and how the process works.
Once you have the answers to your questions, you’ll have a good idea of exactly what type of aggregator you’re talking to, how it operates and what its strong and weak points are. Use the information to compare features and services across multiple aggregators before making your final selection.
Why Vibes is the Right Tier 1 Aggregator
Being one of only four Tier 1 aggregators in the U.S. is an honor we live to uphold. It means that mobile carriers know they can rely on us as the conduit between mobile marketing messaging software and the carriers themselves. They know that we only support quality mobile marketing, never spam, and that we work with our customers to ensure appropriate use of SMS marketing messaging.
As a Tier 1 provider, we offer:
- Unrivaled throughput and uptime.Our SMS uptime record since 2016 is 100%. We run our messaging software in multiple independent geo-diverse regions in an Active-Active configuration, so all regions are processing messages.
- A system that processes tens of thousands of messages per second to ensure successful message delivery at scale 100% of the time (i.e. reliable marketing that reaches your audience when you need to reach them).
- 60+ US carrier connections including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
- Unbeatable time to market - it takes us generally 3-4 weeks to provision new short codes, while the industry average is 8+ weeks.
- Proactive carrier performance monitoring.
- Message delivery receipts.
- Access to mobile disconnect files.
- 24/7/365 Vibes-employed, award-winning customer service.
In summary, an SMS aggregator that has direct connections to all the top carriers, redundant systems to ensure message deliverability/reliability, an ability to quickly provision new short codes, proactive carrier monitoring (letting you know when a carrier is having trouble), and a US-based support team that you can call directly 24/7/365 over the phone makes for a great Tier 1 aggregator.
The Bottom Line
The SMS aggregator you choose to work with will have a direct impact on the success (or failure) of your mobile marketing campaigns.
Tier 1 aggregators are the only ones who have direct carrier connections and as a result offer better delivery speed, faster provisioning, and reliable technical support. To ensure aggregators are who they say they are, make sure to drill down on their experience level and ask about their relationships with carriers before routing any messages through them.
Using low-code application programming interfaces (APIs), Vibes makes it easy to set up and start sending SMS and MMS text campaigns. With our average 3 day connection setup, you can be sending texts through our high-performance network in no time and at a price that's hard to beat.
If you’re not convinced then consider this: if only 80% of your mobile subscribers receive your promotional text message, you’re leaving money on the table with those customers who never received your message, due to spotty delivery. You’re paying to reach 100% of your mobile customers. Make sure you’re actually connecting to them.
Connect with Vibes today to learn more about bulk SMS messaging and tier 1 connectivity.