sms hub

SMS FOR A BETTER WORLD? A Global SMS Hub for Civil Society Organizations.

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Jan 24, 2007

Photo by loungerie, Creative CommonsI am part of a research project for the Gates Foundation on the future of global online advocacy, where I have been adding data and commentary on mobile content.  One of the ideas we have floated is a global SMS hub – a commercial aggregator for low cost global SMS campaigns.  

Why is this needed?

SMS is a critical tool for e-advocacy in the global south.  Given the high rates of mobile phone penetration in large parts of the world compared to Internet access, SMS allows a much wider reach than email.  However, mass SMS campaigns are not feasible option for many NGOs in the global south because of cost – costs that pertain both to the NGO itself and to potential campaign participants who must pay to text. Sending an email message (or a thousand) entails no excess cost for an NGO above the cost of an internet connection (which admittedly, can be formidable in some parts of the world).  However, if an NGO sends an SMS, it must pay per message (the global average cost is .10 US $), making mass texting thousands of messages prohibitively expensive. In addition, SMS  is in some countries still relatively expensive for consumers, making it somewhat unlikely that they would send an SMS message on behalf of an advocacy campaign.  

What would reduce the cost of SMS for social causes and allow for mass sms campaigns to become a reality for NGOs engaging their constituents?

What is needed is a global SMS hub for civil society organizations, and possibly even one with toll-free numbers for SMS that would not charge participants. With a toll-free SMS short code, the sender would not have to pay to send the SMS to a particular number or better yet short code.  This would require short code requisition for many countries and agreements with all telephone operator in the country (or countries) in which the service is to be offered -- short, a global aggregator service with a twist, a Clickatell for Good.

How far off from being a reality is a global SMS hub for civil society?

The GSM Association recently completed trials of a hub-baed interoperability structure.  From it’s press release:

Setting up an SMS Campaign from your Desktop

Posted by benrigby on Jul 29, 2009
Setting up an SMS Campaign from your Desktop data sheet 15822 Views

This document describes the second way – bootstrapping your way to a texting campaign by using Desktop SMS Hubs on a tiny budget and with a minimum of technical expertise.

This method focuses on using software that you download and install on your personal computer that can control the texting software on your mobile phone. Using a simple cable from your mobile phone to your PC along with this software, you’ll have your own personal text messaging system set up in under an hour. Let’s look at a simple diagram that shows your laptop connected to your mobile phone, communicating wirelessly (sending and receiving texts) with any number of mobile phones.


Over the last several years, it’s become clear that mobile phones are becoming one of the most influential devices in our social, political, and civic lives. Savvy nonprofit organizations and NGOs are experimenting with using mobile phones as persuasive devices to recruit new supporters, organize groups, and advocate for causes.

Thus far, most of the successful mobile-phone campaigns have relied on text messaging as their persuasive technology of choice. It’s the only mobile phone technology that works reliably across the majority of mobile phones in most countries. In addition, most people in most countries are familiar with text messaging.

Many organizations want to use text messaging in their campaigns. However, the barriers to setting up a texting campaign appear to be steep. The process seems expensive, technical, and complex overall.

There is good news.

Setting up a text messaging campaign

There are two ways to set up a text campaign that require little technical knowledge – and one of these is inexpensive.

SMS Hub Comparison Matrix

Posted by benrigby on Jul 29, 2009
SMS Hub Comparison Matrix data sheet 9688 Views
Ben Rigby for MobileActive

A comparison of do-it-yourself SMS hubs -- stand-alone systems which allows you to send and receive large numbers of text messages via the mobile phone network, without needing to be connected to the internet or to any other computer network.




An SMS hub is a stand-alone system which allows you to send and receive large numbers of text messages via the mobile phone network, without needing to be connected to the internet or to any other computer network.

You need a laptop or desktop computer with a number of mobile phones or GSM modems attached. A GSM modem is a small device without a keypad or screen that you connect to your computer. It works like a mobile phone, but is controlled through the computer. Messages are sent and received using software installed on the computer which transmits them through the attached phone or modem to the available mobile phone network. Because SMS hubs do not need to be connected to the internet, they are very useful for NGOs working in areas where access to the internet is not possible or is unreliable.

(this definition courtesy of Tactical Tech's Mobiles-in-a-Box)

Rating Criteria and Scale

I’ve applied the following ratings to each software package: