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Report: SMS not ideal for Emergency Communications

US trade group, 3G Americas has published a research report focusing on restrictions on the use of SMS as an emergency alert service. It says there are serious limitations in third party Emergency Alert Systems (EAS). In particular, because of the general architecture of CDMA, TDMA and GSM cellular networks, such systems will not be able to deliver a high volume of emergency messages in a short period of time.

”SMS is touted as being able to deliver critical information during disaster events, and such services have been purchased by universities and municipalities hoping to protect the general public,” stated Patrick Traynor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. ”Unfortunately, such systems typically will not work as advertised.” Read more.

5 Comments to Report: SMS not ideal for Emergency Communications

  1. Rohan Samarajiva's Gravatar Rohan Samarajiva
    September 18, 2008 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    We’ve been saying this since 2005 (Jan 13th to be precise: comment under:, but it’s good that more people are joining the side. But let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater: it can be used effectively for pre-disaster first responder coordination and post disaster work.

  2. Rohan Samarajiva's Gravatar Rohan Samarajiva
    September 19, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    A recent discussion on the pros and cons of cell broadcasting versus SMS is at:

  3. September 23, 2008 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I respectfully disagree with the statements and it is almost as relevant as stating airoplane travel is not safe. On the disclosure side I am CEO of Clickatell and we have successfully seen SMS emergency solutions deployed in many countries which have made a real positive impact on people’s lives. In my view there are no better medium and doing a radio broadcast where unintended listeners hear the bulletin only results in a flurry of voice calls to relatives that does indeed strain cell networks, 160 characters on Text does far less so.This seems to be another 3G agenda pushing for mobile broadband adoption.

  4. Rohan Samarajiva's Gravatar Rohan Samarajiva
    September 23, 2008 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    It took four hours for an SMS to reach someone during and after the tsunami. Tell me why your product is immune to congestion.

    What does this have to do with the safety of air travel? All point-to-point networks are subject to congestion. You can’t wish that away, just because your want your product to succeed.

    We see a role for SMS, but it’s not in public warning. It’s in first responder communication.

  5. September 24, 2008 at 8:27 am | Permalink


    When it comes to mass alerting there is no other better option than use of cell broadcast which is a point to multipoint technology. Further, cell broadcast allows you to address a particular cell space without addressing the recipients individually. Now how can you do that with SMS? Example, if warning agency wants to alert entire US-Texas region on a possible hurricane warning, how can you do so using SMS? You have to individually address them. Further what about the capacity issues which results in congestion. What about people who are not registered in the warning system as a SMS recipient. As per your examples, you may not knew before that cell broadcast can be addressed to the relevant cell space, so it’s targeted towards people concerned.

    Perhaps it would be good for clickatel to evaluate how Cell Broadcast function also to be facilitated through your business model.

    As per agenda’s, there is no need of pushing. People who realize the potential of a particular GSM technology will put into practice effectively for saving people’s lives.


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