Text Messaging in a Call Center World

By Aaron Osgood, Contributing Blogger

This is the first of what I hope to be reasonably regular posts discussing topics of relevance to not only Call Centers and Public Safety Agencies, but all businesses. My background is fairly centered on two distinct worlds: Telecommunications and Public Safety. The lessons I have learned in those arenas have allowed me to develop a unique perspective on the technological and operational needs of small to mid-sized businesses.

I’d like to embark on my literary journey by a brief discussion of “Wireless Text Messaging.” Why start here? Easy: It is one of the most heavily used but misunderstood methods of dispatch employed by both traditional Telephone Answering Services (TAS) and Public Safety Agencies. What we now know as Short Message Service (SMS) or “text messaging” initially entered the wireless arena as “Alphanumeric Paging.” The concept of Alpha Paging represented a significant leap in productivity over more traditional numeric paging for a very simple reason: When the entire “just” of a message is displayed on a handheld radio receiver, the user no longer needed to place a telephone call to the number displayed to ascertain the reason for calling. I intend to go a lot deeper into the history of the technology in a later post, but for now, an overview of the protocols needed to get the message FROM the originator TO the recipient would be better.

The oldest (and still most reliable) but slowest protocol is Telocator Alphanumeric Protocol (TAP). This protocol requires that the originator have a Modem and a phone line attached to the system. Basically, the PC uses the modem to create a temporary direct connection to the recipient’s wireless carrier’s terminal. There is a “handshake” negotiating session where the two computer systems introduce themselves, negotiate a transmission speed, agree on the protocol, identify and verify that the intended recipient is a valid one on that terminal, transmit the message packet or packets, double check that the packet was properly sent and received, and terminating the session. Only then will the carrier take that message and transmit over the airwaves to the recipient’s device.

The modern equivalent to TAP are the Internet protocols SNPP (Simple Network Paging Protocol) and WCTP (Wireless Communications Transfer Protocol). While an oversimplification, these can both be considered as “TAP without the Dial Tone.” Among the advantages to using these are speed and receipt/reply capabilities.

The next “internet” based protocol is SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), also known as “Email.” Currently, this is the method used by many message originators to get text messages to cellular devices. I strongly recommend that this protocol not be used for critical messaging! Think of this analogy: You write a postcard, place a stamp on it and drop it in the nearest mailbox. You have no idea when the postman will come pick it up; you have no idea when it will land in the recipients mailbox; and you have no idea when the recipient will check the mail. Email works electronically the same way. Most of the time, messages seem to transfer instantly, and sometimes they are delayed or even deleted with no pattern.

One of the newer and more reliable methods is SMS (Short Message Service). By connecting your call handling platform to a cellular device, messages can be injected into the same pathways used by the cellular carriers to handle messages from phone to phone across networks.

This is merely a very brief overview, but I’ll expand on these and other topics in future posts.

Aaron Osgood (www.streamline-solutions.net) owned and operated GPS Telemessaging until selling it in 1999. GPS grew to be one of the most successful TAS’s in the region. Aaron was instrumental in the development of several alpha dispatch center projects on a national scale. Since selling GPS, he has been working with TAS businesses throughout the country to assist them with numerous projects aimed at increasing revenue and reducing expenses. He is nationally recognized as a subject matter expert in all things text messaging related.

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