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What do you know about SMS Grey routes?

Let’s take a step back in time to remind ourselves of how SMS became so internationally popular within the corporate space.


Once the main cellular telecommunication companies built their international roaming network, there opened up huge opportunities for both users and commercial organisations all over the world. Although the calls were initially very expensive, with the advent of person-to-person SMS in 1993, telecommunication companies were quick to jump on this trend and started developing a global signalling system – SS7 (Signalling System #7) – to facilitate international person-to-person (P2P) traffic.


In other words, SS7 allowed an Irish person traveling in France to be able to send a text message from their Irish handset to their contact back in Ireland and then to receive a response in France from that same Irish contact.


The SS7 technology permits every telecommunications company (aka network operator) in the world to have access to each other no matter where they’re located. Each network operator would charge the other for sending an SMS to their network. Over time this payment system was phased out. The very nature of P2P messaging meant that if one network passed an SMS to another, the likelihood was that the same receiving network would end up passing an SMS back to the originating network. This effectively cancelled out the payments and so in time the network operators stopped charging each other for these messages.


For example, if Mary has an Irish SIM card and sends an SMS to Nigel who has a UK SIM card, the Irish Network operator would pay the UK operator a fee for receiving and processing the SMS. But because Mary and Nigel are communicating, the networks would rightly expect that Nigel will reply to Mary’s SMS, thereby requiring the UK Network to pay a fee to the Irish Network. Because these fees essentially cancel each other out, the networks ended up not charging each other.


Rise of the Aggregators


Like everything else in the commercial world, however, a group of entrepreneurs stepped in. Setting up a global title, which identified them as a network operator, allowed the fledging aggregator to send messaging to the individual network operators. Now that the network operator was receiving incoming messages from what they believed was another network, there was no charge.


There was a difference, though. These new kids on the block were not using P2P messaging but a system that was first developed back in 1992, called A2P (Application to Mobile) Messaging. It was not a cellular-to-cellular message, but a computer-to-cellular message. As these aggregators had no subscribers, the messages were all one way.


Organisations now had the facility to send out huge numbers of SMS messages to individual mobile phones for a relatively small outlay, considering the open rate of 98%.


Though this sounds terribly smart on behalf of the aggregators, there was an underlying issue. The Cellular Networks were seeing this traffic going to their subscribers without any return. Beyond that, the aggregators were also bouncing traffic (Hops) across each other to make it even harder for the Network operators to decipher whether the traffic was P2P or A2P. There was also, certainly in the early days, before organisations like the Data Protection commission got involved, a lot of SPAM messaging, which brought a large degree of pressure on all involved to try and create a more sustainable service into the future


End of the Grey Route


Back in 2013, the first of the Irish Network operators started to block the grey routes, sending messages to their subscriber base. They figured out which routes were grey and which were legitimate. The Network then started to shut down the grey routes and allowed only a small proportion of aggregators to connect directly to their network allowing for all traffic to pass freely to their subscribers. In late 2014 and early 2015 the largest and second largest Irish Network Operator also followed suit.


This “clean-up” has made great strides in eradicating SPAM and also increased the likelihood of a message getting delivered. However, the negative side to this is that rates have gone up as the networks are now charging for receiving these incoming messages. The lucky few directly connected aggregators in Ireland had no other alternative but to increase their own rates.


Buyer beware!

Grey routes have not disappeared. There are still a multitude of companies online who will offer cheap rates. These rates are extremely tempting especially if you have a large customer base, but buyer beware, the Irish networks who actively block these routes control 80% of the Irish subscriber base – that’s a very large percentage of missed opportunity for a cheap grey rate!

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