SMS Gateway Providers | A How-To Guide On How To Choose One


If you’re new to the mobile marketing landscape, choosing an SMS gateway provider can be tricky. Luckily, we’re here to help you out!

For starters, an SMS service provider is a business entity which provides SMS messaging services, yet is not a mobile network operator. Your SMS service would act as the middleman between network operators and SMS service users. SMS providers sign an agreement with several mobile network operators in order to get their permission to exchange SMS messages with their mobile networks, and also offer an interface for end users to send and receive text messages. Interfaces can be very simple because they will hide a majority of the tedious detials of SMS messaging, while others are more powerful and can support more features. Note that SMS service providers can also be called SMS gateway privders, SMS resellers, or SMS brokers. We’ll explain the differences.

  • SMS Gateway ProviderAn SMS service provider gives an SMS gateway for its users to send SMS messages to. This SMS gateway will then route the SMS messages to another SMS gateway or SMSC.
  • SMS Reseller/SMS Broker: SMS service providers buy SMS messages in bulk from several wireless carriers at a low price per text message. They in turn sell the messages at a higher price than the original cost.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, we will now give you 13 questions you need to ask yourself before choosing an SMS service provider.


How Much Does It Cost For One Message?

You can usually find that SMS gateway providers are divided up into two categories as far as how they require you to pay for their SMS service.

  • Credit-Based: You purchase X amount of credits from the service provider. Sending one message will cost you X amount of credits, depending on the country you send the message to. So some countries may cost two credits per message while some will only require one.
  • SMS-Based: You purchase X amount of credits. The cost for sending out messages still varies from country to country, but you are paying as you go rather than buying a bunch of credits at the beginning of the month like you would with a credit-based purchase.

So logically you would want to go with SMS-based right? Not necessarily. If you are allowed to rollover credits that you haven’t used month to month, you may want to stick with credit-based. Here is another example.

SMS Gateway Provider A: Credit-Based (Cost per Credit=6 cents)

SMS Gateway Provider B: SMS-Based (Cost per SMS message=1 cent)

So consider this information:

SMS Gateway Provider A SMS Gateway Provider B
To Country X

(Suppose 1 credit is required.)

Cost per SMS message = $0.06

Cost per SMS message = $0.1

To Country Y

(Suppose 3 credits are required.)

Cost per SMS message = $0.06 * 3 = $0.18

Cost per SMS message = $0.1

So you can see that your purchase decision is going to be dependent on a number of factors. If your SMS messaging application targets country X, you want to choose gateway provider A because sending an SMS message to country X with SMS gateway provider A is cheaper. Likewise, if your SMS messaging application targets country Y, you want to choose gateway provider B. If your messaging application targets BOTH countries, then you want to route all SMS messages destined for country X to gateway provider A, and any messages destined for country Y to gateway provider B.

For a majority of gateway providers, the price of sending one SMS message decreases with your purchase amount. For example, the pricing structure of gateway provider B and gateway provider C may look like this:

Number of SMS Messages Purchased SMS Gateway Provider B SMS Gateway Provider C

1 to 10,000

Cost per SMS message = $0.1

Cost per SMS message = $0.09

10,001 to 20,000

Cost per SMS message = $0.08

Cost per SMS message = $0.08


Cost per SMS message = $0.06

Cost per SMS message = $0.07

So, judging from the table, you can observe that if you plan to purchase 1 to 10,000 SMS messages at one time, you still want to choose gateway provider C because the cost per message is lower. However, if you want to purchase more than or equal to 20,001 messages at once, you’ll want to choose gateway provider B.

Are There Any Hidden Costs?

Sometimes SMS gateway providers are not clear on all of the fees involved on the pricing page of their website. They will hide a lot of the fees so their service looks cheaper on the surface, but in reality it’s not. Make sure you are aware of any hidden fees, such as setup fees, before you make your purchase.

Are There Any Minimum Purchase Requirements Or Monthly Minimum Usage Requirements?

Sometimes gateway providers will have a minimum purchase requirement. For example, a gateway provider may require you to buy 1,000 credits each time you make a purchase. If you’re not certain whether your SMS application is going to be successful, you’ll want to find an SMS service provider that does not have a minimum requirement. Then you can start out by buying a small amount of SMS messages or credits, then add on more later as you get more users.

Most of the time, gateway providers will not have monthly minimum requirements. This is more common with SMS messaging services provided by mobile network operators. For example, a mobile network operator may not offer SMS messaging services unless the customer already has built monthly traffic up to 50,000 messages.

If you’re one of the companies with a very small amount of SMS traffic, you’ll want to choose an SMS gateway provider with no monthly minimum usage requirement.

For some gateway providers, the credits or messages purchased can only be used within a certain timeframe, meaning any remaining unused credits or messages will expire. If you end up choosing a service provider whose credits or messages expire, you’ll want to be very conservative when approximating the amount of SMS traffic you’ll be getting on your SMS application.

How Good Is The SMS Gateway Provider’s Coverage?

Considering network coverage is important because it can be possible that an SMS gateway provider does not to have the ability to deliver to certain countries or mobile operators. Usually, you can find a detailed list of countries and mobile operators supported by a particular gateway provider on their website.

Noting this, you still want to be aware of the fact that network coverage also may not be updated. Even if it isupdated, some gateway providers may not be able to guarantee that you can assuredly send messages to a mobile operator listed on their network coverage web page. Why? An SMS message could be routed to other gateways that are not controlled directly by the gateway providers themselves.

Additonally, you want to remember that some gateway providers cannot reach mobile phone numbers that have been ported between mobile operators. Several gateway providers will give new users a few free SMS messages, so you can use those to test the capacities of that gateway provider’s coverage.

How Good Is The SMS Gateway Provider’s Network Quality?

Some gateway providers will offer a very low price per message, however, those providers probably will have poor network quality and your messages sometimes may be delayed while reaching their intended destination, or they may not make it at all. So you’ll want to test the gateway provider’s network quality before choosing them. Like we mentioned earlier, some gateway providers will offer you a small amount of free messages for new uses, so take advantage of these to test their network’s quality.

Also, some gatewya providers will offer many message routing options. You’ll have the choice of routing SMS messsages through more reliable yet more expensive networks, or you can route your messages through a cheaper but less reliable network.

Does The SMS Gateway Support The Protocol/Interface You Intend To Use?

Protocols and interfaces usually supported by SMS gateway providers for sending and receiving SMS messages include:

  • HTTP: The most commonly supported protocol for sending and receiving SMS messages. It is very simple to use.
  • HTTPS (HTTP + SSL encryption): Data transmitted over HTTP is not secure. If you do not want your data to be seen by others on the Internet, use HTTPS instead. With HTTPS, data is encrypted before transmitting over the internet, thus protecting the data from eavesdropping.
  • XML over HTTP / HTTPS: One or more SMS messages are put in an XML file and uploaded to the SMS gateway provider’s server. XML over HTTP / HTTPS is a better choice than HTTP / HTTPS for sending bulk SMS messages since it enables the submission of a large amount of SMS messages in a single HTTP request.
  • SMTP (email to SMS / SMS to email): Choose SMTP if you want to send or receive SMS messages in the form of email.
  • FTP: One or more SMS messages are put in a text file and uploaded to the SMS gateway provider’s FTP server. Like XML over HTTP / HTTPS, FTP is a better choice than HTTP / HTTPS for sending bulk SMS messages since it enables the submission of a large amount of SMS messages in a single upload.
  • SMPP: The SMPP protocol is usually used by advanced users. It is a binary protocol for communicating with SMSCs (SMS centers) and SMS gateways. SMPP is suitable for sending and receiving bulk SMS messages.

Gateway providers usually support only a subset of the above mentioned protocols and interfaces. Some providers also offer their users a COM object for free. You can implement the COM object into your ASP or Microsoft Windows based programs and call the methods of the COM object to submit SMS messages to the SMS gateway.

Is The SMS Gateway Provider’s API Well Documented And Easy To Use? Is There Any Sample Code Provided?

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and sample codes that are well documented are invaluable to developers because of the development time they save.

A good use of the API documentation while you’re choosing a gateway provider is to check whether or not a gateway provider can support particular elements required by your SMS application. An example would be finding out whether or not a gateway provider supports the sending of linked messages. You can check the API documentation and see if there is a description of the commands and parameters for sending linked SMS messages.

Some gateway providers may require you to register an account or make a purchase before you can download their API documentation or sample code form their site, but these providers are usually less preferable.

What Options On Payment Does The SMS Gateway Provider Offer?

Usually SMS messages and credits are purchased from a website, so naturally, most gateway providers support online credit card payment. They may also support PayPal, check payment, direct deposit, or a wire transfer.

A lot of gateway providers will offer a web-based account management system where you can manage your entire SMS campaign from one central location. Most of the different management systems are pretty alike, they only differ in ease of use. Some service providers will offer an account management system that is both easy to use and easy to learn. Their user interface is clean and insightful, the menu items are well organized, and plenty of hints and tips are available along the way to help you out when needed.

So you’ll want to note that some gateway providers’ account management systems support more features than others. Let us give you a few examples.

  • Access via HTTPS (HTTP + SSL encryption): Some account management systems are accessible via HTTPS. With an HTTPS connection, the data transmitted between your computer and the web server over the Internet is encrypted. So, your data (for example, the user name and password you entered in the login page) is protected from eavesdropping.
  • IP locking: Some account management systems allow you to associate a few IP addresses to your account. Only computers with those IP addresses can send or receive SMS messages via the SMS gateway provider. This feature enhances your account’s security.
  • Low credits/SMS messages alert: Some account management systems will send a text message to the email address or mobile phone number you specified when the number of remaining credits/SMS messages in your account is lower than a certain value.
  • Detailed reports: Some account management systems provide detailed reports of the SMS messages sent and received. You can request reports of a certain day or date range. The reports usually include fields such as the total number of SMS message sent or received, the date and time that an individual SMS message was sent or received, and the originating/recipient mobile phone number. Some account management systems also allow you to download a report as a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file or Microsoft Excel file, which can be imported into a spreadsheet program to do things such as generating charts from the data.
  • Sub users management: Some account management systems allow you to add sub users to your account. You and the sub users share the same account but they use their own user name and password. You, as the administrator, can view reports of the SMS messages sent and received by a certain sub user. The ability to add sub users is particularly useful to large companies where many applications or staff members need to send or receive SMS messages.
  • SMS message routing options. Some SMS gateway providers offer several message routing options that can be set or changed with their account management system. For example, an SMS gateway provider might allow you to specify:
  1. Whether to route SMS messages at a certain cost (Sometimes you may not want to allow your staff members to send SMS messages to destinations that cost too many credits.)
  2. Whether to route SMS messages to a certain destination (Suppose your company sets up an SMS messaging system for staff members to contact clients in the UK, you may want to disable the sending of SMS messages to other countries.)
  3. Which network to route SMS messages through (Do you want to route SMS messages through more reliable but more expensive networks, or less reliable but cheaper networks?)

Does The SMS Gateway Provider Offer Free SMS Messages For Testing?

You obviously will want to test an SMS gateway carefully before you decide on making a purchase. As mentioned earlier, you can usually test whethere you can successfully send and receive messages to and from your target countries, mobile operators, or mobile phone numbers through the gateway provider. You’ll also want to test the gateway provider’s network quality.

If the gateway provider does offer free SMS messages for testing, great! But if they don’t, know that you can still test it yourself for very little money. Either way, you don’t want to blindly purchase a set of SMS messages or credits without knowing the full capabilities of what you’re buying.

Does Your SMS Application Need 2-Way SMS Messaging Services?

There are two types of SMS messaging services; 1-way and 2-way. 1-way messaging services enable you to send messages, while 2-way messaging services enable you to both send and receive messages. Every single gateway provider offers 1-way messaging, but only some of them offer 2-way. The reasoning behind this is that it is technically more difficult for an SMS service provider to allow its users to receive messages than to send messages.

How Good Is The SMS Gateway Provider’s Support Service?

Don’t ever jump into business with a gateway provider if you’re not sure that they can provide a good support system for your SMS campaign. Good service providers have support teams that have a complete understanding of their own system. They should be able to answer any and all questions and problems and be familiar with compatibility issues concerning different mobile network operators. You can find this out by emailing or asking them questions, then asking yourself these questions:

  • Do they reply?
  • Are their responses timely?
  • Do they answer your questions clearly and concisely?
  • Are they familiar with the topic and subject matter?
  • Ask follow-up questions also. Do they have patience? Etc.

A majority of gateway providers offer support service by email, but some do offer support by telephone. You may want to also consider this when choosing a gateway provider.

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