Power is nothing without control

Many of us will soon be heading off for some well-earned vacation; indeed, some us may actually be soaking up some rays, eating some great food and having a good rest right now. 50 years ago today though, NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre on Merritt Island in Florida was anything but a holiday destination. It was a hive of activity. Nobody rested. It was all about the work. Very precise work. Holiday could not have been further from peoples’ minds.

Commander Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin ate their breakfast of steak, eggs, toast, juice and coffee in exactly 25 minutes. Precision was the watchword. These three intrepid souls were the crew of Apollo 11, the fifth manned mission of NASA‘s Apollo program.

Strapped aboard a Saturn V rocket, the Apollo spacecraft had three parts: a command module with a cabin for the three astronauts, and the only part that returned to Earth; a service module, which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, water and oxygen; and then the lunar module that itself had two stages – a descent stage for landing on the Moon and an ascent stage to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit. All had to function seamlessly, in perfect harmony.

Their first opportunity for a launch was calculated to be at 9:32 a.m. local time and the mission had just 13 minutes and 54 seconds of leeway beyond that. The timing was precise so they would arrive four days later at the moon’s Sea of Tranquility with optimal sunlight coming from behind the lunar module and low on the horizon.

Bang on time, at precisely 9.32 a.m. on Wednesday July 16th 1969, the nearly 3,000 tonne Saturn V began its climb to the heavens, admirably accomplishing its role in safely delivering up its precious payload which would go on to create real human history four days later. Being able to do all of this so accurately and bang on time required some serious intelligence on the move. To say that the mission was successful is somewhat of an understatement. It certainly was more than one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind.

Bringing real intelligence to your Mobile game is critical to the success of any organisation

Whilst perhaps not delivering up a piece of human history billions may be talking about for decades to come, it is fair comment to say that Mitto does its bit to add real value to the lives of millions of people around the world! Mitto delivers millions of both Transactional and Marketing related content transactions each day in a highly accurate and timely manner. Delivering real, quantifiable value is critical for our clients.

Whilst not always crucial for every SMS to be delivered within a few seconds, there is a general expectation that the SMS will arrive on the handset of the destination subscriber sooner rather than later. Marketing material does not tend to have the time related delivery pressure associated that much of Transactional related content has. For example, it would not impact the bottom line of an ice-cream company if their SMS-based Marketing campaign reached their customers within a minute or two rather than a handful of seconds.  Things such as OTPs (One-Time Passwords) are a whole different ball game.

Where use cases such as the verification of live access to online accounts and online card transactions are concerned, time really is off the essence. Every second counts. Our Enterprise clients have strict service level agreements with us, specifying their content delivery expectations to the letter. We absolutely have to be on top of things all the time and bring our A-game, delivering critical content in a handful of seconds or less.

Since the launch of the first commercial mobile network in Japan 40 years ago, the number of MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) globally has grown to over one thousand. SMS volumes (thanks to the drive and ubiquity of Application-to-Person – A2P) are continuing to increase rapidly across its 26th year of existence with volumes of transactions in the billions. Routing A2P traffic accurately in an instant is something we have become experts at.

Mitto verifies the integrity of all destination mobile numbers, both in terms of checking their current status (valid or invalid) and who their serving operator is. This results in super high successful delivery ratios for our clients. Marketing budgets are maximized by ensuring that the delivery of content is attempted for only active numbers within client databases. The most common A2P SMS charging model out there is that of on submitted.

With some SMS termination fees of EUR 0.05 and above being charged by a good number of MNOs globally, taking a lazy routing approach can quickly drain finances. The absolute control we exercise over our traffic ensures that should an Enterprise request to restrict content delivery to only those clients not roaming (for example), this is something we can easily accommodate.

Whilst we have perhaps one of the most complete, evolving databases of MNO number ranges there is (an important pillar of any A2P SMS routing protocol), our real strength lies in our ability to harness the power of HLR (Home Location Register) lookups. Relying only on this library of MNO provided numbering plans is setting yourself up for failure though.

Static routing does not take into account the tens of millions of people globally who have moved with their mobile numbers over to new operators. There is however one definite way of verifying the ported status of any mobile number: through the use of Home Location Register (HLR) checking – most commonly known as HLR query, HLR lookup or number dip.

Every mobile operator has an HLR, a database which forms the backbone of subscriber data. It contains information of all their mobile subscribers. Mobile subscriber information stored includes subscribers’ numbers, their identities and general information about their locations. HLR lookups are real-time queries of this subscriber information stored in an MNO’s HLR. This technology can tell in an instant if a subscriber is roaming or not. All checks are non-invasive and remotely performed. Mobile subscribers do not see anything on their handsets.

Before Singapore implemented Mobile Number Portability (MNP) in 1997, every mobile subscriber on planet earth wanting to take advantage of a cheaper deal from another operator was forced to change their number. There had been no mechanism for them to take their number with them to a new service provider, to port it.

Almost all countries now support MNP and it comes in two flavours: a centralised database (CDB) approach or a decentralised one. International best practice is to use a CDB of ported numbers. This approach is highly efficient and scalable with the centralised databases typically being managed by a joint venture of the country’s MNOs or the national telecommunications regulator.

The introduction of MNP and easy access to live HLR lookup services like our own should mean that the days of some Aggregators (and indeed a few MNOs) taking only a static routing approach to A2P SMS should well and truly be numbered. Unfortunately, there is no definitive end to this practice in plain sight. Why is this the case?

Well, initial cost is a reason sometimes cited. Individual lookups are not expensive (typically only c. 5% of an SMS termination fee) but with a content deliverer handling millions of SMS transactions daily, it can be tempting to sidestep this cost totally. This soon can come back to bite though given statistically a ported number may be encountered in more than one in twenty times. The cost of HLR queries really is justified then.

Delays in SMS delivery times are another reason some organisations use for not implementing a process and solution. But using cached HLR results and databases means a lookup can take as little as 20 milliseconds, with a live one taking one second. Not a justifiable reason to give HLR lookups a miss. What about the lack of technology and related expertise? There is some validity to that given some Aggregators do not have the infrastructure (routing intelligence) to handle the MNP lookup call flow and integrate it into their routing process.

Without using every possible tool at their disposal and building a process with checks and balances every step of the way, ensuring the notion of failure could never be entertained, the Apollo 11 mission would never have been the success it was. Likewise, our Mobile Engagement industry needs to ensure it uses everything at its disposal to give legitimate content a real fighting chance of reaching its correct destination rapidly, all at a fair price.

The moral of this story is very simple: run an MNP check on every SMS being sent out. Not doing so damages to the integrity of a channel that continues to delight and deliver real value for people globally. And A2P SMS will continue to do so for years to come.