SMS sunset might be an issue in the future for disater management

SMS text messaging has been here for about 35 years, it is a robust if primitive technology. With the advent of social networks doubling as instant messengers, mobile usage has mutated and consumers are now taking data networks for granted.

I had previously spotted this topic but when Robert Monarch mentioned that UNICEF’s U-report system has already transitioned from SMS to data (Whatsapp) I began to have a clear picture of some kind of major regression.

SMS is the Toyota Land Cruiser of mobile communication
In planning for future disaster you have to take into account that data coverage is more limited, maybe more subject to disruption and in any case the service might be saturated after catastrophes.

The core of the problem is that SMS is being phased out and as far as I understand it will no longer be available as an automatic fall-back option to mobile users. I previously used the Signal app as the enhanced instant messenger relying on data (same as Whatsapp or Messenger, Telegram…) but I also had the option to receive SMS. Now this option is no more because, basically, those apps are built to provide strong encryption and it doesn’t make sense to route in SMS that was never a secure way to communicate.

What with iMessage, Whatsapp now widely used and Google pushing for the adoption of RCS, SMS will not be an option when planning for future disasters. Somehow we have to factor this in.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts @Lrf !

While SMS will eventually become obsolete, for some regions it will be later than sooner.

Hey, thanks for your answer @Mubsi )
Sure SMS are here to stay for quite some time, most notably in Africa. But as I understand UNICEF’s U-report system will be of little use in this context (did they properly assess the risks of jumping to Whatsapp?).

On the whole my remark is about advocating for SMS to be maintained, even if it has to become a system locked around approved short numbers (such as 4636). This is primarily a topic for the GSMA. I guess disaster response NGOs could formally put forward a request.

It would also be important for people to be able to communicate by SMS even if they basically forgot about it (or never used it for the younger generation), so device manufacturers (well Apple and Google) should make sure they keep an SMS functionality at the core (able to be woken up by a short number for instance), similar to the alerts broadcast system, but enabling two-communication with short numbers and directly between users.