For people raised on mobile phones and texting, calling a help line can be a exercise in obsolescence: first, it requires you to make a voice call, often to speak to an robot, or hold for what seems like hours while listening to muzak. On Thursday, toll-free numbers administered by wholesale VoIP provider Bandwidth will gain the ability to send and receive text messages — which could mean that you never have to hold for an operator again.
Bandwidth, which is the nation’s sixth largest telco based the number of telephone numbers it has, isn’t designing the toll-free SMS program for its clients. Instead, it’ll be up to each company or software provider to design their system using Bandwidth’s APIs protocols.
So there aren’t many toll-free numbers you can text today. Still; imagine a world where instead of being put on hold, you can simply receive a text when an operator is available. As more companies adapt to this new capability, that’s exactly what will happen.
While mobile numbers can receive SMS messages, landline phones largely can’t. It’s both a technical and a regulatory issue. First, you need an SMS client running on a device to receive texts — which is a technical problem. For a toll-free number, there isn’t a device like a phone receiving it, which is where Bandwidth comes in. Its service acts as a switch that recognizes when a message has been sent to one of its numbers.
The other barrier was regulatory, but in recent years, the mobile industry association CTIA has gradually worked with carriers to open up their networks to make landline SMS texting possible. Zipwhip was one of the first companies to take advantage of the new regulations, and also offers SMS texting to toll-free numbers.
Bandwidth also announced two new features for developers of over-the-top messaging apps. Historically, over-the-top messaging users, like the ones using Bandwidth’s platform, have only been able to send SMS messages, not rich MMS messages. If you’ve used Google Voice in the past, you’ve probably run into this problem. Now over-the-top messaging services using Bandwidth can send and receive MMS messages, and can even receive messages containing short-codes, bringing the dream of having your main number in a cross-platform app just a little bit closer.