SMS Fallback: A Comprehensive Guide

Profile Headshot of Satyam Gupta
Satyam Gupta

mins read

February 29, 2024

How Does SMS Fallback Work

Key Takeaways

  1. SMS fallback works as a backup channel where a message fails to send over another channel
  2. Slow internet speed, server failures, device incompatability are some of the reasons why messages do not get delivered via their primary channel
  3. Multiple channels like push notifications, RCS and iMessages take SMS as a fallback by automatically resending messages as SMS
  4. There can also be certain complications in SMS fallback. For example: SMS as a channel does not allow any media and thus messages would need to be altered before send them across as SMS fallback
  5. Users may choose to deactivate SMS fallback for several reasons including probability of extra charges, storage issues etc.

With a few finite channels, businesses are trying to reach their customers across the world. Some popular ones include: -

  1. A2P messaging including transactional and promotional SMS  
  2. WhatsApp  
  3. RCS is also an emerging channel in business communication space

However, there are instances when these channels may fail to deliver messages, leading to a breakdown in communication or cascading messaging.

That's where SMS fallback comes into play. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what SMS fallback is, why it is essential, and how it works.

What is SMS Fallback?

SMS fallback is a backup option for when a message fails to send over another channel. For example via WhatsApp marketing.  
It serves as a contingency plan for businesses using internet-based messaging channels like WhatsApp, Messenger, or push notifications as their primary communication method.  
When enabled, SMS fallback allows these messages to be sent as traditional text blasts, which are transmitted via mobile phone networks instead of relying on internet connectivity.

SMS fallback is very necessary for use cases like user authentication via an OTP SMS.  
The change of channel is automatic and does not require any manual intervention. OTP SMS can fail due to coverage issues. For such critical cases, reliable providers like Message Central should be used which provide direct operator connectivity. You can also use fallback enabled APIs for this use case.

Why do messages via a primary communication channel fail?

There are several reasons why messages sent through primary communication channels may fail to reach their intended recipients.  
One common reason is a poor or non-existent internet connection. Slow internet speeds, server failures, and device incompatibility can also contribute to message failures.  
For example, iMessages can only be sent between iOS users and may fail when attempting to send to Android devices.

There are also chances of failure at the sender’s end. That is why it is always advised to use providers with direct operator connectivity like Message Central.  

How does SMS fallback work?

Infographic showing How Does SMS Fallback Work by Message Central.

SMS fallback works by automatically resending messages as SMS when they are not delivered through the primary communication channel like WhatsApp marketing messages. Let's explore some examples of how SMS fallback can be utilized:

Example 1: Push notifications sent as SMS notifications

Imagine you want to entice a potential customer back to your online store with an abandoned cart mobile push notification. However, if the recipient doesn't have their web browser running on their device, the push notification may not be delivered immediately. In this case, SMS fallback can be used to send the reminder via text, ensuring it arrives virtually instantly.

Example 2: RCS messages falling back on SMS messages

Rich Communication Services (RCS) for which you sometimes receive sent as SMS via server, is a messaging protocol developed by Google for Android devices. It offers features like image sharing, read receipts, and typing indicators. However, some older Android devices do not support RCS messages and can only receive regular text messages. By enabling SMS fallback, RCS messages can be sent as SMS messages to ensure delivery to all recipients.

Example 3: iMessage text sent as an SMS message

iMessages, exclusive to Apple devices, can only be sent between iOS users. When an iMessage is sent to a non-Apple device, it can be automatically converted to an SMS message. This ensures that the message reaches the recipient, even if they don't have an Apple device.

SMS backup: a possible complication

While SMS fallback provides a reliable backup option, it's important to note that SMS is a text-only channel. Sending images or emojis via SMS requires converting the message to MMS, which may incur additional costs.  
If SMS is used as a fallback option, businesses may need to consider altering their message content or increasing their communications budget accordingly. Using reliable SMS API providers is also very necessary.  

Seven reasons why you need SMS fallback

Having an alternative messaging channel as a backup is crucial for businesses. Here are seven reasons why SMS fallback is essential:

  1. Reliability: SMS is a highly reliable backup option, ensuring message delivery even in areas with poor internet connectivity.
  2. Useful in emergencies: SMS is ideal for crisis communication when other channels may be unavailable due to technical issues or natural disasters.
  3. Fast messaging: SMS provides near-real-time communication, making it effective for time-sensitive situations such as appointment reminders and limited-time promotions.
  4. High deliverability: SMS has excellent reach, as it can be accessed by anyone with a mobile phone, without the need for third-party apps. This is the reason why it is used for cases like user authentication via SMS verification.
  5. Cuts possible losses: By utilizing SMS fallback, businesses can minimize the risk of communication breakdowns, ensuring important messages reach their recipients.
  6. Omnichannel communication: SMS is a vital component of an omnichannel communication strategy, offering convenience and speed.
  7. Wins customers' trust: SMS messaging offers reliability and consistency, helping businesses build trust and loyalty with their customers.

Why would anyone turn off SMS fallback?

While SMS fallback is generally beneficial, some users may choose to deactivate it for various reasons:

  1. Unexpected or unwanted charges: Automatic conversion to SMS can result in unexpected charges, especially during extended chat conversations.
  2. Not on an SMS plan: Not everyone subscribes to text message packages offered by network providers, leading to potentially expensive per-SMS charges.
  3. Storage issues: Some users may prefer to keep their inboxes clutter-free and avoid using up limited space on their devices.
  4. To avoid MMS: Sending images, files, or emojis via SMS can convert the message to MMS, which typically incurs higher costs.
  5. Channel overwhelm: Some individuals may prefer to limit their availability on multiple communication channels.

How to toggle SMS fallback on or off

Both senders and recipients can control SMS fallback settings on their devices. Here's how to toggle SMS fallback on or off:

  1. iPhone: Open the Settings app, scroll down to "Messages," find "Send as SMS," and toggle the button to activate or deactivate automatic SMS fallback.
  2. Android: Open the Google Messages app, click the profile button at the top right, go to "Message settings," then "RCS chats." You'll find the option to toggle on or off "Automatically resend as a text (SMS/MMS)."

SMS: a traditional yet indispensable channel

Despite the rise of internet-based messaging channels, SMS marketing remains an indispensable communication channel for businesses. Its reliability, speed, and accessibility make it crucial for maintaining effective communication with customers. Setting up SMS fallback ensures that important or time-sensitive messages are delivered, even in situations where primary communication channels may fail.

In conclusion, SMS fallback serves as a reliable backup option, offering businesses an alternative messaging channel when primary communication channels are unavailable. It provides reliability, speed, and high deliverability, making it an essential component of an omnichannel communication strategy. By understanding the importance of SMS fallback and knowing how to toggle it on or off, businesses can maintain seamless communication with their customers and build trust in the long term.

SMS APIs by Message Now

Message Now is an SMS API provider by Message Central. The platform providers: -

  1. Direct operator connectivity  
  2. Best SMS routes
  3. Global connectivity  
  4. Easy to use APIs
  5. Competitive SMS rates

For implementing use cases like SMS fallback, you can get in touch with the team at Message Central.

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