Texting across the globe

Way back in 1973, the Concorde delivered passengers from NYC to London in less time than it takes to finish an NFL game. And we’ve been Skyping friends and family around the world for nearly two decades. But for all the ways distance has shrunk and boundaries have been erased, it’s taken a while for global texting to take hold because different countries have unique number formats, regulations, fee structures, and carrier choices.

Did you know that the oldest United Nations agency was set up initially to help countries connect their communication systems? The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been around since 1865 and formally joined the U.N. in 1949.¹ ITU committees create the standards that govern radio waves, communications satellites, internet protocols, and even video compression. Without these standards, we wouldn’t be able to call internationally. But despite all of these common standards, there are still separate phone numbering systems businesses have to navigate to send messages around the world.

66% of survey respondents

say global messaging
is a priority for 2024.²

In keeping with this year’s theme of broadening options, international messaging is becoming more streamlined as providers offer multiple global channels. Bandwidth, for example, recently introduced global messaging as a part of our Messaging API. One dashboard login now gives you access to alphanumeric, one-way messaging reaching 120 countries.

There are a few terms to be familiar with when expanding from the U.S. / Canada to international texting.

“It is very complicated to try and simplify the global network as one. You start with this beautiful goal of one messaging use case and then oops, the UK does it differently, India does it differently. And then you have to find a partner who is willing to work with you to get those approvals together. And usually it comes down to minimum viable deliverability, right? And that’s where I think 10DLC is very powerful. And not only that, finding a good partner is very important.”
TJ Thinkaran

Founder and CEO of CasselRoad
Consulting, Strategy Advisor–CTIA
Content and Strategy Advisor–MEF

Over-the-Top Messaging

We’ve got a section on this in Chapter One, but any conversation about international messaging needs a mention of OTT apps like WhatsApp that are commonly used for personal and business texting in non-North American countries.

Alphanumeric SMS

Alphanumeric SMS allows for 1-way texting between a business and an opted-in user. Instead of coming from a phone number, they’re sent from a string of letters representing a brand’s name. Alphanumeric SMS is available in most of Europe, the Asia Pacific region, and Latin America.

International brands are using alphanumeric messaging for general alerts, product news, promotional announcements, and other 1-way updates.

One of the biggest benefits of alphanumeric messaging is that customers recognize the brand at a glance. One common best practice for other number types is beginning a message with the brand’s name so that customers recognize who messages are coming from. With alphanumeric, your customers don’t have to eat into their character counts, because their name automatically appears!

Use Case for Alphanumeric SMSCommon Industries
Event or appointment remindersHealthcare, Education, Recreation/Travel, Real Estate
Sales promotionsE-commerce, Recreation/Travel, Food/Hospitality,
Employee communications HRIS
Critical alertsEducation, Utilities, Civic Engagement
Notifications with CTA engagement linksE-commerce, Recreation/Travel, Healthcare
Two-factor authenticationE-commerce, HRIS

Global 2-Way SMS

You might see this called Mobile Messaging or Global A2P 2-way in some settings. This method of two-way SMS uses a distinct, national number type.

The big benefit is getting that conversation with opted-in users. Global 2-way lets your customers provide better customer service, resolve questions and support issues faster, and create ongoing engagement more easily.

Use Cases for 2-Way Global SMSCommon Industries
Customer service & supportHealthcare, E-Commerce, Recreation/Travel
Reservations & confirmationsGig economy, Food & Hospitality, Real Estate
Sales engagementRecreation/Travel, Marketing Automation
Scheduling & employee managementHRIS
SMS SurveysHRIS, E-Commerce, Gig-Economy, Food & Hospitality, Recreation/Travel
Point-of-Sale transactional noticesHospitality, Restaurant, Retail

No pump zone

If you have a global messaging program, you’ve probably noticed that prices fluctuate wildly. Every time you check your billing portal it can feel like that one time you opened your A/C bill after accidentally leaving your house set at 68F/20C over summer vacation. One of the big reasons international message rates spike is due to Artificially Inflated Traffic (AIT) or SMS pumping.

SMS Pumping happens when bad actors fraudulently pump up messaging volume and take advantage of legitimate messaging senders to do it. Bad actors do this by using number input fields on businesses’ websites to input their own numbers. They then get money for each text sent, while the business sending the messages to these fraudulent entities is left with a hefty bill. Make sure you have the appropriate tools in place to detect this type of fraud if you plan to go global with your messaging portfolio.

Some cities do sleep

Here in the States, it’s not unusual for me to get sale notices on Labor Day, or 4th of July greetings from brands while I’m at a barbeque. But some countries set limits on when you can send messages. France, for example, has quiet hours from 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM, and they shut down promotional messaging on Sundays and holidays, too. Be sure you know the local rules so you’re not saying au revoir to money spent on messages that never arrive.

“Because international SMS is more expensive, our initial foray into international markets is going to be taking the cream off the top and focusing on sending the messages we know absolutely perform the best.”
Andre Prudhomme

Group Product Manager
Fivestars by SumUp

1. International Telecommunication Union, “Discover ITU’s History”
2. Bandwidth business survey


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