What is SMS and How It’s Used in Everyday Life

On average 18 billion SMS messages are sent every day, making SMS the most used text messaging service in the world.All the best businesses have used SMS too, ranging from SMS marketing campaigns to customer service.

Most people are likely to receive a text and understand how it works on the end-user side of things. But have you thought about the magic behind what makes a message travel through thin air to get to your phone?

Let’s delve into the SMS world and discover more about what makes it so popular for business and other reasons.

What is P2P and A2P messaging?

Twilio Programmable SMS Text Messaging generally falls within one of two categories: A2P and P2P messaging. Read on to find out the differences, and which is right for you.

A2P Messaging

A2P, or application-to-person messaging, is any kind of traffic in which a person is receiving messages from an application. A2P messaging includes (but is not limited to) marketing messages, appointment reminders, chat bots or virtual assistants, notifications, and one-time passwords (OTPs) or PIN codes.

Carriers in the United States and Canada have a strict interpretation of A2P, and consider all messaging that passes through Twilio (or other messaging application platforms) to be A2P.

A2P messages can be subject to local country regulations (e.g. France and India). These restrictions can have delivery implications that customers should be aware of, such as message filtering by recipient carriers or delayed message delivery.

P2P Messaging

P2P, or person-to-person messaging, is generally defined as a two-way (back and forth) messaging conversation between two humans. This could be messages between friends on mobile phones, or messages connecting two people using Twilio’s REST API as a conduit.

In the United States and Canada, P2P messaging is defined very narrowly by telecom regulations, and does not include any application-mediated messaging. All Twilio messaging is considered A2P in the US and Canada.

In other countries, the P2P messaging categorization may cover some application-mediated communications, such as texting between a customer and a support agent (for example using Twilio Flex), conversations between two users via a proxy number, or messages to and from a delivery or rideshare driver.

What numbers or senders should I use for my type of messaging?

United States and Canada carriers consider all traffic passing through Twilio to be A2P. You have several options for how to send this traffic; for an overview, please see Comparison of SMS messaging in the US and Canada for long codes, short codes, and toll-free phone numbers

For non-US countries, if your use case involves A2P messaging, we recommend looking into using Short Codes or Alphanumeric Sender IDs.

Woman using a phone in a car

How A2P is used

A2P is commonly used by businesses and enterprises to communicate with customers. A2P can be used for sending a range of texts, including:

  • One-time passcodes (OTPs) to facilitate secure account login.
  • Appointment confirmations and reminders.
  • Service updates.
  • Banking alerts.
  • Order progress updates.
  • Feedback requests.
  • Marketing notifications, e.g. special offers or discount codes.

A2P allows businesses to send text messages in bulk and on a global scale. Depending upon the application used for A2P, many messages can be automated; triggered to send after a specific action or event. For example, an order confirmation SMS can be automatically sent out by the application as soon as a customer places an order online.

A2P messaging should be used in accordance with CTIA’s Messaging Principles and Best Practices guidelines which sets out how businesses should send text communications to consumers while protecting them from unwanted messages.

How A2P messaging works

To use A2P messaging, you need first to choose an SMS platform (the application). You’ll log into your account, upload a list of subscribers (or set up a landing page to capture new subscribers). Then you’ll create the types of SMS messages you want to send.

You’ll then ‘send’ your messages directly from the SMS platform, either in bulk or separately, depending on your needs. For you, this process only involves the click of a button. In the background, the application transmits the A2P messages through a mobile network operator, where they’re then forwarded onto your subscribers as a text message.

Differences between A2P and P2P messaging

A2P and P2P text messages are treated differently in CTIA’s Messaging Principles and Best Practices guidelines. This is because P2P refers to ‘person to person’ text messaging and isn’t typically used by businesses. Essentially, this means that a person (as opposed to an application) sends a text message to another person, each using a mobile device. Whenever you have a back and forth conversation by text with friends, you’re using P2P messaging. Looking at this alternatively, if a text message doesn’t originate from a mobile phone with a SIM card, then it’s classed as A2P.

Another difference between A2P and P2P is down to message architecture. P2P messages are transmitted through a person’s mobile device, their wireless connection and their mobile carrier. A2P messages, however, travel through aggregators and spam filters before being delivered to a mobile carrier and then finally, to the end-user.

Types of A2P messaging

A2P messaging can be done using toll-free messaging, ten-digit long codes, or shortcodes, which usually consist of five or six digits). These options relate to the phone number you’re sending messages from. There are various reasons why you might want to use one over another, cost being one of them.

1. Conversational messaging

This is a back and forth text conversation between a business and a consumer. A good example is where a customer enquires about a service or product. In this case, the conversation is initiated by the customer. Conversational messaging is based on implied consent. No further permission is required.

2. Informational messaging

This is when a consumer submits their phone number to a business and requests to be contacted in the future. Usually, this relates to service messages, for instance, appointment reminders, fraud alerts, or account updates, but ‘welcome’ texts fall into this category too. 

Informational messages may be one-way or two-way. To send messages for a specific informational purpose, you need to obtain express consent from the consumer at the point where they hand over their phone number. Consent can be given verbally, or via an online or paper form.

3. Promotional messaging

Lastly, these are one-way text messages that promote or advertise a product, service, brand or business. Because promotional texts can be seen as intrusive or spammy, express written consent is required. A good way to capture consent is through an opt-in checkbox situated next to where the consumer submits their contact details. For example, when creating an online account or filling in a contact form. A key need-to-know here is that you must obtain this explicit consent before you send that first promotional text.

A2P messaging benefits

A2P messaging offers several advantages. It enables you to send a high volume of messages to large groups of subscribers all at the same time. And as text messages are delivered pretty much instantly, you can send time-sensitive alerts with confidence.

With A2P messaging, you don’t need to use your own phone number. Instead, you can select a toll-free, long code or shortcode number to use.

Finally, as a communications channel, SMS works exceptionally well to put your business directly in front of your target audience. 96% of smartphone owners use SMS.  With fantastic text open rates (nearly 100% according to Salesforce), A2P could potentially revolutionise the way you do business.

To summarize, here are the key benefits of application to person messaging:

  • A2P messaging can streamline appointments. Application to person messaging automates the process of sending out appointment reminders to customers – while giving you the ability to customize each message. When it appears on a user’s mobile device, the message will stand out. You can easily pair a business SMS software application with online reservation systems to provide a seamless experience for the mobile user.
  • A2P messaging is more effective than email. If you want to send marketing messages, you should leverage the potential of business SMS solutions. Email marketing is oversaturated – making it difficult to break through the noise in any meaningful way. Sending mobile messages gives you a direct line of communication with your prospects and customer.
  • A2P messaging can quickly deliver messages to mobile phones. When you automate text messaging using a business SMS solution, you can quickly convey critical information to your audience. If you’re trying to quickly notify your audience of time-sensitive information, email marketing campaigns are rarely effective.
  • Application to person messaging doesn’t have to break the bank. There are affordable A2P messaging solutions on the market for business owners and marketers to choose from.

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