SMS/800 launches registry to text-enable toll-free numbers, gets CTIA's endorsement

SMS/800, a privately-held company that already serves as the FCC's appointed administrator in North America for toll-free numbers, is launching a registry to enable owners of toll-free numbers to use SMS services to interact with their customers.

The Texting and Smart Services (TSS) Registry will enable toll-free number owners to expand their offering beyond voice and SMS/800 will act as a neutral third party.

SMS/800 COO William Carter said it is a natural extension of SMS/800's business. Carter said SMS/800, which has been endorsed by the CTIA for its new role, said owners of toll-free numbers will have the ability and flexibility to decide how they want to use a text-enabled number.   

Alan Stiffler, SMS/800's vice president of business development, said there are slightly less than 40 million toll-free numbers in use in the United States, and all are eligible to be text-enabled. However, he said that there are only between 500,000 and 1 million toll-free numbers that are currently text-enabled.

Stiffler said the text-enablement of toll-free numbers is based on the same principles as SMS short codes, with conversations initiated by consumers so that businesses cannot use toll-free numbers to send out SMS spam.

Stiffler added that prior to 2013 there was no central registry for text-enabled toll-free numbers and several companies tried to set up their own independent registries with different infrastructures that were not always consistent with each other. He also said there was no one monitoring to make sure that toll-free number owners actually wanted their numbers to be text-enabled -- and some were registered without the owners' knowledge.  

To become text-enabled and be a part of the TSS Registry, toll-free number owners need to be certified service registrars and register with SMS/800 and take an online training course. Once the owners pass, they are eligible to use the system and can text-enable their number.

SMS/800 will then manage a central database for all text-enabled toll-free numbers that houses top-level routing information for all the numbers. For every toll-free number, there is a "responsible organization" that manages it, Stiffler said, which can be a carrier or the company that owns the number itself. If a toll-free number owner decides to text-enable the number, SMS/800 will send out a message to that organization to validate the request and approve the enablement.

SMS/800 has worked to make sure the registry is secure and will update its security procedures quarterly, Stiffler said.

Carter said he thinks the number of toll-free number owners that want to enable SMS through their numbers will ramp up in the coming months. "We hope and we do confidently believe it will have a material impact on the company from a financial and reputational point of view," he said.

CTIA said it thinks SMS/800 is the right company to manage the registry. "We're excited about SMS/800's expansion of its registry services so that there is a trusted registry providing a single 'golden record' of services associated with a toll-free telephone number," David Diggs, CTIA's vice president of wireless Internet development, said in a statement. "SMS/800 has a long track record serving as the registry for toll-free voice, and we're confident that their expanded registry services will help make basic text messaging even more valuable to mobile consumers." 

So what will enabling texting for toll-free numbers accomplish for businesses? HeyWire, a company that uses a cloud service application to enable two-way business texting, is working with SMS/800, and CMO Paul Henderson said that text-enabling toll-free numbers will benefit sales teams and especially customer support. He said it adds another communications channel that is easier and can reach more customers than a web chat or an interaction on social media.

Henderson said HeyWire currently has hundreds of businesses as customers that use text-enabled toll-free numbers, including some Fortune 1,000 companies, though he declined to name them.

HeyWire CTO Gene Lew said that the benefit of working with SMS/800 is the company is a neutral overseer of the system, like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for the Internet, and that everyone in the industry can rely on the firm. Henderson added that "prior to this it was a little more loose" with different vendors offering solutions -- but with little guarantee that text-enablement would be "managed properly and securely."

"This is kind of a new concept for businesses," Henderson said. "Most businesses don't know this [text-enablement] can be done, and done independent of their voice traffic." He added that support for picture messaging, MMS and other types of technologies will likely be added over time.  

For more:
- see this release

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