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Is it time to reinvent SMS?

It’s 17:00, on the 3rd of July 2019 and I wanted to send a photo to a group of friends in a WhatsApp group. I noticed something wasn’t right with WhatsApp as the photo wouldn’t send. I figured it must have been my phone. I switched it off and on, as you do. It didn’t fix the issue. I sent the photo to another person to test and it wasn’t working. This was when I figured there must be something up. I typed WhatsApp into twitter and was immediately hit with information about an outage. But this wasn’t just an outage on WhatsApp, it was an outage on Instagram and Facebook too. Then, I quickly realised that it was pretty much a global outage. What’s the common denominator here? These all fall under Mark Zuckerberg’s watch. I thought to myself, thankfully he didn’t also acquire Twitter.

4 hours since the outage happened, there was approximately 1.2 million mentions of WhatsApp on Twitter. It was also making mainstream headlines. Yet, the official WhatsApp twitter account was quiet in relation to the outage. Not one tweet or even acknowledgment of the outage to give people an indication of what has happened and what measures they are taking to rectify this global outage. This is not the first outage by the same group. It’s not even the first this year. In March this year, there was a 14-hour outage. Was there lessons learned or is this something that we are going to have to get accustomed to because of the sheer size of this organisation?

This led me to think about WhatsApp, its power and whether or not, people will start to get peeved by outage after an outage and a slow PR machine to keep people informed. Should operators be looking to capitalise on this? SMS technology reigned free for a long time until WhatsApp came along. Operators were asleep at the wheel thinking they could still charge for individual messages. Whilst new players such as WhatsApp came along and people could then send as many messages, images, videos, etc. as they wanted and not pay a penny. They could do this by leveraging operators pipeline with limited revenue to be made from the data used.

It’s time for operators to resurrect the SMS. They need to make this technology cooler again. iPhone users are pretty happy with the service they get with iMessage. However, when they want to message somebody on Android, it’s a different type of experience. Why don’t they turn text messaging into the same set up as WhatsApp? The functionality to have groups, be able to send content and not get charged outside your plan? This could then bring more people back to using the technology their operator provides. By people using your services, you have more control of how you can advertise, or push offers by text messaging. You have more information on their usage and trends. But ultimately, if there is an outage it’s just going to be isolated to that particular operator and not run the risk of a global PR crisis.

With the advent of 5G, it’s time for operators to take control again of what people do on their network and take some of the power away for these global OTT’s.