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‘In’ means staying in touch for SMS users

SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging over mobile phones has been one of the ‘in’ things for tech-savvy people, particularly the younger crowd, for the past two years or so.

It’s a cheap and efficient means for mobile-to-mobile contact that doesn’t force recipients to immediately pull over to the side of the road (not that talkers seem to do this too much anyway) or interrupt conversations to answer their mobile phones.

The latter two benefits may not seem to be so important, but the first two should have every business pricking up its ears – SMS is cheap, and it’s efficient.

In general, both Telstra and Optus charge 25 cents for each sent SMS message of up to 160 characters, though until late last year the cost was 22 cents per message. Vodafone and Virgin Mobile continue to charge 22 cents per message.

If we lived in Singapore we’d be a lot happier: Singaporeans pay about 5 cents per message, while in Denmark and Germany the costs are about 10 cents and 15 cents respectively.

Optus also used to charge for each received message (if the intended recipient didn’t receive the message the sender was not charged) but it recently changed this practice.

It’s also worth noting that, while one SMS message can be sent to a potentially limitless number of people, the sender will be charged for each person the message is sent to – 1,000 messages will cost $250, not just 25 cents as one might like to believe.

Naturally, however, there are countless plans available to personal and business users. In most cases, SMS messages count as part of the user’s “free” calls included in their pricing plans, but businesses might find they are able to negotiate to pay lower prices, particularly if they are high-volume users.

Regardless of whether discounts are available, it’s a worthwhile exercise to compare the cost and practicality of SMS with a normal mobile phone call.

Most phone calls are still charged in 30-second blocks. After the initial pleasantries are made, the actual message is delivered (quite possibly with the most important part having to be repeated for clarity’s sake). Allowing for the odd spot of dropping out, it’s all too easy to continue a conversation a few seconds into the next 30-second block.

That’s wasted money.

By using SMS, the pleasantries are dispensed with (they’re called “pleasantries”, not “necessaries” after all), the message is passed on, drop-out is avoided, and there’s no unnecessary wastage of money.

This is why companies across Australia are beginning to use SMS in preference to phone calls where, literally, just a short text message sent to the mobile phone of an employee, client or associate is suitable.

A Telstra spokesman said the company did not know exactly how well the concept had taken off in Perth as Telstra doesn’t break down SMS use on a State-by-State basis. Across the nation, however, there had been a five-fold increase in business use in just the past five months.

“SMS is a productivity tool for business,” the spokesman said. “They can reach a huge number of contacts without making a single phone call, and they can reach those people within the space of a couple of seconds, whereas in the past it would take a multitude of telephone calls.”

Qantas is one high-profile user of SMS messaging. Since November last year the airline has sent details of flight departure time changes to registered frequent flyers who have a compatible mobile phone. Domestic flyers are notified if their flight is to be delayed by more than 30 minutes, while international travellers are advised if their flight will be more than an hour late in taking off.

According to Shaun Collopy, general manager e-business division at Amnet, an ISP and software development company, businesses that rely heavily on sales staff or that have many employees in the field are particularly suited to using SMS.

Rather than passing on messages to such staff via mobile calls, which was previously the only way to keep in contact with them, managers or administrative staff are using SMS messaging instead.

Mr Collopy said there had been “huge growth” in corporate use of SMS, with some of Amnet’s customers reporting up to 40 per cent savings on their calls to mobile phones per month.

“We can generally find an application within almost any business, whether it’s as simple as secretaries notifying their bosses when they’re out of the office of phone calls or changes to appointment times, to some companies in the medical industry sending appointment reminders for specialists,” he said.

“We’ve seen a lot of companies … use it in much the same way as we do email, but you’ve got a lot higher chance of someone having their mobile phone on them than you have of them being in front of their computer, especially if they’re in the field.”

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