Hosted VoIP meets SMS

Remember back to the late 1990s when businesses finally acknowledged that instant messaging was a useful communications tool, and took steps to bring it under management control, creating Enterprise Instant Messaging?

Well, the same thing is finally happening with another hitherto-uncontrolled communications mode: New York City-based M5 Networks—which has been quietly over the past decade building a unique, integrated business communications service suite—recently announced the availability of SMS (short messaging system) with its business IP phone service.

“Nobody has ever done this before,” M5 senior vice president of product marketing, Jeff Valentine told Enterprise VoIPplanet. “Nobody has allowed an individual using a business phone number—the same phone number that rings their desk phone—to send and receive SMS messages,” he said.

M5 has been able to do this, according to Valentine, because it has built its technology from the ground up.

There were some technology hurdles to clear: “Whatever softswitch a provider like us would want to use would have to support this type of non-voice communication for the numbers,” Valentine explained.

“One of M5’s big differentiators is that we own it; it’s ours. We built our own softswitch; so we have the flexibility to make those changes—we can innovate quickly.”

Moreover, there was critical coordination with M5’s carriers. “We needed our carriers to allow us to send and receive these SMS messages over their networks—for what were not mobile phone numbers,” Valentine said, commenting further that whereas the carriers might have been reluctant to make such an arrangement with a smaller organization, “they were happy to work with us, considering the volume we do—some 60,000 endpoints.”

“We worked that out and now we have a process whereby we can provision SMS on a DID that’s not a mobile DID,” Valentine concluded.

Basic to the concept of M5’s Business SMS service was simplicity of use. Rather than use the physical phone to initiate or receive text messages—according to Valentine, end-users don’t tend to look at their phone unless they’re placing or receiving a voice call—the company elected to use its Web browser “widget” as the endpoint.

“For an end-user, when they get an SMS, if they happen to be logged into our Web browser application through one of our portals, they see it pop up like an instant message,” Valentine said. “They can respond to it like an instant message—real-time communication back and forth, using your business phone number as the origination and the destination number.”

Not quite yet launched is a feature that will deal with the instances when the recipient of a message is not in front of their PC: Any incoming text message is automatically forwarded to the user’s e-mail account. “You can respond to that e-mail and respond to the SMS at the same time,” Valentine said. “So, for the end-user, the experience is very normal. They don’t have to type anything weird on the telephone keypad, or look up the phone.”

Valentine cited recruiters in the staffing industry as one type of worker that expressed strong interest in utilizing the M5 Business SMS service. To notify a client that you’ve set up an appointment for them the next Tuesday, SMS is the perfect solution. Both e-mail and a voice call, being public, might well be intrusive. The SMS you send would show up on the person’s personal cell phone—from which they could respond, as appropriate.

On the other hand, for a business that thrives on this type of communication, the use of the personal cell phone is not ideal. With the M5 service, every communication is managed—logged, recorded, and available for analytical processing via M5’s Business Intelligence Engine.

“If all the business communications runs through cell phones instead of the business-provided phone line, then none of that is managed any more,” Valentine asserted “– neither the quality nor the experience. That’s the problem we’re solving.”

In addition to bringing texting under corporate management control, M5 Business SMS promises to be a big cost saver. According to Valentine, typical a la carte charges for SMS runs between five and ten cents a message. Companies that use SMS heavily can get around those charges by deploying special gateways and trunks, but these are expensive too.

“We can avoid all that, using our carriers, with which we’ve already set those relationships up,” he pointed out. “They already have the interop[ability], so our cost is much lower than it would be for our competitors.”

As of the launch, M5 is pricing Business SMS at a flat rate $10 per month per seat for unlimited messaging. They are in the process of working out a la carte pricing for light SMS users, but that is not yet announced.

As a sidelight, M5 has also worked out an SMS implementation for, with which M5’s services can be integrated.

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