Report: SMS Does Not Handle Volume Well At All

In one of the first wide-scale studies of SMS' capability to hold up under volume pressure, the technology fared "surprisingly" poorly, according to Keynote Systems. This has particular significance for retailers, who are exploring the technology's use for mobile communications connecting to both online and in-store.

Keynote tested two-dozen of the largest SMS players, including Chase, Coca-Cola, Google, NBC, PayPal, USA Today and The New York Times. SMS messages were sent to each of the 24 common short code (CSC) addresses every hour for four consecutive weeks, Keynote said.

"Response times for some short codes degraded severely during the busiest hours of the day. One CSC showed a 60 percent peak-period slowdown every day, indicating a major capacity issue was present," Keynote said. "Many of the CSCs monitored showed significant reliability issues. Several (experienced) more than 10 hours of outage while one (experienced) more than 50 hours."

The report also found that wireless carriers—understandably—can have a significant impact on SMS robustness. CDMA carriers had slower send times than GSM carriers, the report said, "and for some short codes, response time was more than twice as slow via one carrier compared to another."

With the keyboard and screen limits of most cellphones and even many smartphones, many retailers view CSC as a convenient commerce tactic. Consumers can type short number messages to purchase a variety of services or products or participate in a survey.

Keynote senior manager Ben Rushlo said many of the problems are likely to be short-lived, comparing today's SMS/CSC efforts with where the Web was five years ago. "As for the peak period degradation issue, this is a new and emerging area. Some of these sites are just now starting to get into" text messaging experiments, Rushlo said. "For some of the sites in this study, this is not a core thing for them. I am not sure that mobile is even a core thing for them yet."

Although Keynote has an unfortunate policy of not publicly identifying the retailers who fared the worst on their surveys, they do release the names of those who performed the best. For overall reliability, the top five were CBS, Coca-Cola, Chase, The New York Times and Obopay while the top five for overall responsiveness were Obopay, Wells Fargo, The New York Times, Thumbplay and Chase.