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October 11, 2021

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SMS Flourishes During Facebook Outages

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When Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger experienced outages, SMS (Short Message Service) stood in the gap.

For six hours, the unthinkable happened. Facebook vanished from the face of the earth. Indeed, on October 4th, 2021, the tech giant suffered a devastating outage that seemingly erased the company’s presence from the Internet. No Facebook, no WhatsApp, no Messenger, no Instagram — nada.

Of course, these outages did not go unnoticed. To borrow a phrase, anytime a trillion-dollar company sneezes, the world catches a cold. When Instagram and Facebook go down, millions of businesses that rely on their advertising capabilities suffer for it. Likewise, when WhatsApp and Messenger turn into glorified word processors, people begin assessing their options.

SMS Picked Up the Slack

Well, as it turns out, SMS was a popular surrogate. According to the folks over at KPN, a Dutch Mobile Operator, the number of SMS messages sent over their network doubled from the start of the outage. Moreover, at the peak, SMS traffic quadrupled compared to the same time the previous week. Mobile Operators in France and elsewhere saw similar spikes in text messaging.

As KPN notes, SMS usage typically follows a predictable pattern. It picks up early in the morning as people wake up, levels off between 10:00 AM CET and 4:00 PM CET, then falls off in the evening — rinse and repeat. However, during the Facebook interregnum, text messaging did not begin to fall off until after 10:00 PM CET.

Why Was SMS Such a Popular WhatsApp / Facebook Alternative?

Put plainly, text messaging is a tried-and-tested communications solution for individuals and businesses alike. Not only is it among the most affordable ways to communicate, it’s also widely accessible, globally standardized, and natively supported on practically every mobile phone on the market. In other words, unlike WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, or Viber, users don’t need to download the same third-party clients or browsers to communicate via SMS.

It’s also worth mentioning that text messaging operates independently from the Internet. So, if a mobile operator’s web presence inexplicably evaporates for a few hours, users will still be able to laugh about it with their friends via text.

To put a finer point on things, consider the following:

  • Roughly 65% of the global population send and receive SMS messages. That’s approximately 5 billion people.
  • In North America, 292 million people use SMS. This represents 80% of the population.
  • SMS boasts open rates as high as 98%.

More Competition for WhatsApp

Now, back in January, WhatsApp announced a watershed amendment to their privacy policy aimed at facilitating better integration with other Facebook offerings. However, these revisions raised some concerns around how the messaging app intended to share information with Facebook and its subsidiaries. This created something of a moment for WhatsApp’s competitors — companies like Signal and Telegram jumped at the opportunity to scoop up disillusioned WhatsApp users.

But when the unthinkable actually happened, and users had to make real choices, it was SMS that stood in the gap. Indeed, if Facebook’s outages proved anything, it’s the value of SMS as the most reliable, widely adopted communications solutions on the planet. Businesses would be well advised to plan their internal and external digital communications strategies accordingly.

To learn more about the Pareteum SMS offering, check out our website or set up a meeting with one of our team members.