UK text massacre: when mobile operators kill your texts

Have you taken your annual vacation for this year yet? And if so, did you leave your mobile phone at home?

Research into the subject suggests that mobile operators do not hold undelivered texts indefinitely. The question then is how long is that period and whether it varies between operator.

TelecomsMarketResearch has already reported on lost or missing texts, and in its UK Text Transit Test report for July 2013 found mobile operator Orange lost the greatest number of texts.

The report had noted the suggestion that mobile operators delete undelivered text messages 3-days after transmission, although the Text Transit Tests suggested that such a process was operator specific, and that texts were still being delivered when phones were reactivated after 3-days.

On 31 July 2013 at 22:10 hrs in the UK seven texts were sent from seven phones on seven networks (MNOs Orange, O2, Vodafone, Three and T-Mobile; MVNOs Tesco and Virgin). The bank of seven receiving phones (also on seven networks) were switched off, and switched on again on 12 August 2013 at 07:20 hrs. They were opened ‘inside’ a building initially, but after 20 minutes were placed ‘outside’, in a location known to favour the sending and receiving of texts.

And we waited…and waited! This blog is now being authored some 24 hours after switching the receiving phones on, and so far, not a peep from any of them.

There is the matter of the ‘Delivery Reports’ on the transmitting phones. These continue to show ‘waiting’ on all networks bar Orange. Orange is the only network to report that all seven messages have ‘failed’.

So there you have it. Texts are indeed deleted by the networks if the receiving phone is inactive or out of reach of a network for a period greater than 12 days.

Now I appreciate that if all the undelivered texts were retained for prolonged periods there would be issues of storage and retrieval. But two thoughts strike me about this.

Firstly, the service, which has not been performed, was paid for in advance.

Secondly, in the UK there have been moves by government for operators to retain copies of all e-mail and Web-searches conducted by the population for periods of greater than a year. One wonders if the UK government has considering what the retention of texts might mean, particularly given mobile operators currently struggle to retain 12-day old texts, let alone 365-day old ones.

One suspects that this is a problem of ‘server’ v ‘storer’. Workers complain about the cap placed on their e-mail inboxes, whilst the ICT team point out that the machine in the corner is a ‘server’. For it to perform its function correctly, it needs to ‘serve or kill’.

It is ironic that MI5, the secret service charged with monitoring the UK populace, might know that you needed to pick up a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread on your way back from the airport, but you could remain blissfully unaware of the fact. Until you opened the fridge and found it empty!

Still, one can only hope that the government insisting on storing copies of the vast number of texts sent every year might just mean that they are then available for delivery should we chance to switch our phone off for a few days. There might yet be a silver lining for users.


Keith Wallace

Further reading:

Mobile Messaging Futures 2013-2017
July 2013
Analysis and Growth Forecasts for Mobile Messaging Markets Worldwide: SMS, OTT, MMS and Email: 7th Edition Mobile messaging is a USD 230 billion dollar business, and it is the most profitable, most exciting, and most talked about segment of the mobile industry today…(more)

The Connected Consumer Survey 2013: voice and messaging 
June 2013
Younger users are leading the migration towards IP-based voice and messaging alternatives, but high adoption levels among older users will worry operators that are aiming to secure the mass market with their own services. This report, drawing on…(more)

VoIP and IP messaging: Operator strategies to combat the threat from OTT players (revised and updated)
May 2013
VoIP and IP Messaging: Operator Strategies to Combat the Threat from OTT Players is a re-issued report from Informa Telecoms & Media which includes new analysis, commentary and case studies about the OTT and IP communications market.The report also features…(more)

20 years of SMS messaging and future prospects Tariff Trends SnapShot No 10
March 2013
The TCL Tariff Trends SnapShot #10  assesses 20 years of MNO messaging – and consider the future of messaging. Messaging continues to grow overall, but is in long term decline in markets. Coverage:  20 years of SMS messaging; and future prospects  …(more)

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