back to article iOS 5's iMessage chops carrier SMS routing traffic

Apple's iMessage may be killing text messaging - or the text messaging revenues made by network operators, at least. Yes, it's not hard empirical data, but one iPhone user, Nevan Mrgan, has charted a major drop-off in text messages sent once he upgraded his handset to iOS 5, which introduced iMessage. iMessage routes SMS …


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  1. jai


    I barely send any sms txts any more. it's quite a shock with the message is in green.

    Then again, my phone plan includes unlimited txts, so it makes no difference to me.

  2. Montreux

    Had to turn off iMessage

    My wife and I had to turn off iMessage after using it for a week as too many messages were getting lost. iMessage just isn't as tolerant of poor quality connections as SMS is. The problem being that there is a delay between Apple trying to send via iMessage before it gives up and then falls back to SMS. So I would leave work and text my wife, she would be marginally out of reception for some reason, about 5 minutes later iMessage would give up and try to communicate back to me to send an SMS. By which time I was on the underground and out of contact myself, so the message would completely fail. Whereas with SMS it is fire and forget. I send the SMS and the operator then will keep trying the target until they become available.

    Seeing as texts are effectively free with my plan iMessage had problems and no benefits.

    1. Hayden Clark Silver badge

      Typical app-writer design

      Apple engineers aren't telecoms engineers. So this kind of basic end-to-end integrity stuff (which mobile networks have done for years) simply isn't implemented.


      1. The Cube

        RE "which mobile networks have done for years"


        That's a good one, tell you what, why don't you SMS that to me on Vodafone and then sometime the next day when it finally gets delivered I'll read it.

        End to end integrity is only useful within a user dependent time frame, if the Royal Snail deliver a letter 20 years late the recipient doesn't say "wow, you must have tried really hard to deliver that" they say "you useless bunch of &*£(&%(*£(" which is what I normally say to Vodacrap after sending an SMS saying "I'll be 4 hours late for dinner" and getting home before the message anyway.

        1. TeeCee Gold badge

          Yup, I LOL'd at that too.

          I recall some years back TPTB were looking at moving to SMS for on-call alerts and sunsetting pagers.

          I asked what the delivery times were for SMS and was told it was pretty much instant. I suggested they check that with the Telco. The answer came back that there was *no* guarantee of delivery at all, SMS was a low priority service and subject to other network traffic delaying it, it was *usually* within four hours and 99.something% within 24.

          The other nail in the coffin was that they couldn't find a handset that eschewed "beep once" in favour of "raucous racket until acknowledged" for SMS arrival alerts.

    2. LarsG


      if you want to avoid it just switch WiFi off, once the system matures then why not!

      1. O RLY


        If you want to avoid it, just turn off iMessage. While it's on by default on iOS5, it's got a toggle under the options menu. No need to turn off WiFi :)

      2. Lallabalalla

        Turn wifi off?

        What a daft idea. You can turn off iMessage in Settings.

    3. Chris 3

      Top tip

      When sending an iMessage, a little label appears under your message saying 'delivered' once it is delivered. The indication. Has never be accurate for me.

      I find the system very handy, since I have an iPod and the wife has an iPhone.

      1. Craig 12

        "Has never be accurate for me."

        Just last night I had a 'Delivered' message recipient get back to me 90 mins later, having only just receiving the message.

        imessage is slow and unreliable and offers no cost benefit compared to SMS (in the UK, where unlimited texts are probably the norm with this level of handset.).

    4. foxyshadis

      Another problem

      It doesn't actually give up completely - my phone died and I left it off all weekend, hell I was tired anyway, and when I plugged it back in I had a rain of iMessage AND SMS text pairs. Apparently if it fails to deliver the iMessage within a given time, it does fall back on SMS - but the iMessage stays in queue, ready to contribute to messaging spam.

    5. Juan Inamillion


      Anyone who thinks or expects SMS or iMessage to be 'instant' is, frankly, delusional. As anyone who has tried to send texts around any big event like, say, New Year, they find that messages can take 24 hours to arrive.

      This year I had several messages in advance of midnight, the sender doing so expressly to avoid the delay.

  3. Mondo the Magnificent
    Thumb Up

    Is this really a bad thing?

    As a Jesus phone user I noticed that a lot of my outgoing texts had a blue (iMessage) background opposed to a green (SMS) background when sending text messages to friends and family with iPhones after the IOS5 upgrade.

    Now we all know that most CSPs offer a zillion free texts when buying into a contract, but this usually only covers messages within the U.K.

    My son lives in South Africa and the girlfriend lives in France, none of these are covered by O2's free text service, so Apple's iMessage is an absolute bonus for me and anyone else who sends texts abroad to recipients with iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S.

    I also had no issues with the usual text message delays we usually experience over new year's eve/morning when almost the entire population try and send messages of goodwill and cheer to one another. All the iMessages went through almost instantaneously

    Call it what you want, for me it's sheer convenience and saves me a little bit of money :¬)

    1. Dave Murray

      "I also had no issues with the usual text message delays we usually experience over new year's eve/morning when almost the entire population try and send messages of goodwill and cheer to one another. All the iMessages went through almost instantaneously"

      Ah but did you actually try to send any SMS messages this year? I sent approx 50 SMS messages just after the bells and all went through. I had replies from all, including 2 from Spain, within minutes. I also made several calls to family and had no problems with them either. And, I had the same experience last year. I think the traditional New Year's phone & text issues are now a thing of the past (on Vodaphone at least).

      1. Chris 3


        I had a couple of SMS messages that appear to have taken around an hour to arrive - I'm on Tesco Mobile

      2. Steve Evans

        Where are you?

        What country are you in? I was in London and tried to SMS via Orange. For about 20 minutes round midnight I could even get my message onto the network. I expect the cells were overloaded from all the people watching the fireworks.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ...doesn't everybody just use Whats App like the rest of the world?! Then you can use it with Android, BB and iOS devices and not be stuck to just one OS.

      1. NHS IT guy

        because it's unreliable?

        I used to use whatsapp fanatically, but over time it's become less and less reliable. Messages go missing, people show as offline when they're online (and visa versa), connections drop for no reason. It's less reliable on the whole than iMessage now.

        1. Marcelo Rodrigues

          You must be unlucky

          I use Whats Ap, and found it to deal gracefully with my (poor) 3G connection. When the messages goes to the central it gets a green check. When the recipient gets it, the message shows a double green check.

          I've seen it try to deliver the message for days on end.

          Yes, I have seen people mislabeled as offline, when they where online. But I chalked it to the carrier signal, not the app itself. Anyway, send a message, and as soon as (s)he gets online, the message is delivered.

          P.S. I found out that IPhone users tend to logoff, and Android users tend to stay online. Maybe something to do with the way Android and IOS deal with multitasking? Don't know.

      2. Steve Evans


        Last time I looked at Whatsapp it had a "free for x months" offer (on Android), which is the crack dealers marketing model. I chose not to become reliant on it and uninstalled it within a few minutes. IIRC it also lacked an elegant way of logging off.

        1. Marcelo Rodrigues

          Yes, first year is free

          Then You have to pay the absolutely outrageous fee of US$ 1,99/year.

          I am billed (trough the noose) for each SMS I send. No, I cannot get a plan with free SMS - I'm brazilian. So, after around 10 SMSs the software has paid for itself. No bad in my book.

    3. NogginTheNog

      Sorry but...

      "My son lives in South Africa and the girlfriend lives in France"

      Are they trying to tell you something...?? :-D

  4. Mark Dowling
    Thumb Up

    I probably had the same graph

    a month after getting BBM. BBM also doesn't need an SMS fallback - it just works.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      BBM should have been the death knell for SMS then... but hang on, it wasn't... it must have not been magical enough.

      1. Steve Evans

        If they opened BBM up to other OS's then maybe it might have been.

        Instead they restricted it to their phones, and thought that feature would be enough to pull people to them... It didn't work.

        So instead they screwed up their network and managed to leave large chunks of the planet unable to send messages for several days.

        1. TeeCee Gold badge

          "If they opened BBM up to other OS's then maybe it might have been."

          And iMessage is open to.........?

          Same old same old then I guess.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " just works."

      Don't shoot the, heh heh, messenger!

    3. Giles Jones Gold badge

      And how long have RIM had to get that right? probably 5 or so years. iMessage is a fairly recent thing.

      You might have been glad of an SMS fallback when RIM's servers failed so catastrophically last year.

  5. technohead95

    I hardly send SMS either

    Not only to carriers charge for SMS, most also charge for receiving delivery reports too. Most people I chat to are now using Whatsapp so I get to send SMS and receive delivery reports all for free. I get the added benefit of the extra features that come with Whatsapp so it's a complete win win. I think my SMS messaging has gone from usual 100 to 300 a month down to around 20 to 50 a month. I wish there was a common protocol or a de-facto standard for applications like Whatsapp so it was as universally common as SMS. However, Whatsapp is good enough for my needs and the contacts I have.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    One User?

    A sample of one? Wow this is possibly the most baseless conclusion in the history of the internet. I expect better from the Register. So this one person has embraced iMessage, OK that's proven... but given that this person is just one in a sea of millions with all kinds of devices, price plans and friends it means absolutely nothing unless you could prove somehow that this person is the definition of the average user (I doubt it given they made these stats in the first place).

    <badsciencemode>I've barely send SMS for years, so according to the logic presented here this obviously this means SMS has been on the decline for years.</badsciencemode>

    <reality>I have no friends</reality>

    See the problem?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thumbs down for pointing out that a sample of one is not something you can draw ANY conclusions from? Bloomin' heck, it's a nutty world.

    2. TonyHoyle

      "I expect better from the Register."

      You must be new here.

  7. DZ-Jay

    Wi-Fi is not required

    You can send iMessages and avoid SMS when communicating between two iOS 5 devices, whether they are using Wi-Fi or, in the case of the iPad and iPhone, 3G.


  8. Peter 48

    iDevice only or agnostic?

    does it work between devices for different manufacturers? Without being device agnostic it is about as useful as facetime vs skype and a big step backwards for the consumer, back to when SMS only worked within individual networks and call rates varied between carriers.

    It does however show the principles of apple's initial idea to develop a phone network without using carriers when they first developed the iPhone. IT will be interesting to see how much love carriers will continue to show Apple if they start affecting their cash cows.

    1. Chris 3

      Worse than FaceTime actually...

      You can't even send/receive iMessages on a Mac. Just plain daft.

      1. foxyshadis


        That's coming in a Lion update. I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm sure that was meant to be ready by the time iOS 5 was.

      2. NHS IT guy

        Coming soon (apparently)

        The rumours having been flying, and getting more frequent that there's an update to iChat for Mac OS X on the way that allows you to use iMessage from your desktop.

  9. uhuznaa

    Not a world changer, still a good idea

    The nicest thing about iMessage is how it integrates seamlessly with SMS. If you think about smartphones having persistent data connections for years now and usually the phone's software STILL makes you use bloody expensive SMS for texting, it's quite obvious that the carriers just don't want to give up on that cash-cow.

    Apple giving the boot to the carriers here is one thing I love them for (even if there's lots not to love about them). Apple has got some balls the other phone and OS suppliers just seem to lack totally. The whole phone world surely would be a poorer place without Apple (and it was a poorer place before the iPhone).

    Now, if Apple would open up iMessage, so that third-party apps on Android could support it... this would be even better. And Facetime. And integrate all of these.

    1. melts

      others lack totally?

      I guess thats why I've been using gtalk on my galaxy since the day I got it, sending messages to anyone logged into gtalk on PC or Android on my data plan, and it even swaps to WiFi if i'm on it.

      yep imessage is late to the party, except for its 'seamless' interfacing into the sms/messaging client, while I have to open one or the other... The big thing here is it switches on automagically for the iplebs who can't download whatsapp or a gtalk client to join in the data driven messages.

      and gtalk works in the browser, apparently not so for imessage :p

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'd rather see Apple integrate XMPP into iOS to be fair.

  10. nsld

    and how secure is this?

    SMS sent via apples servers smacks of ad data collection and other privacy issues and given apples track record in this type of thing in the past I would put money on it.

    After all, they have to use those lovely, shiny, huge new data centres for something.

    1. Silverburn
      Big Brother

      Not sure why you were downvoted

      Privacy is a serious concern for corporates using iDevices as corp devices, but I have one revision to your statement - Apple's snooping is not the main cause for concern.

      Anything that routes through the US (imessages, itunes backups, icloud etc) is - *potentially* - subject to the Patriot Act. For balance, it's not just Apple who have to comply with the Patriot Act, so it's always worth clarifying with your US service provider on their position re: the Patriot Act before signing up.

      Morale: Never route date you consider to be 'sensitive' over routes you cannot secure or "trust".

      Where's my black helicopter icon?

      1. foxyshadis
        Black Helicopters

        According to Apple

        The entire conversation is encrypted end to end with shared public keys, similar to the way BBM works with their PIN encryption. I did verify that it's not completely plain text, with wifi packet captures, before turning it on in our organization... but I have no way of verifying how it's encrypted or how secure it actually is.

  11. Chris 3

    "given apples track record in this type of thing in the past"

    And what would that be exactly?

    1. nsld


      that would be the location tracking, non anonymous data collection and those are just the ones they have been caught doing.

      Dont assume this is something unique to Apple, all the major players in the ad world do this including Google and Microsoft

      If you genuinely believe they have provided this service altruistically thats great but I have yet to find a company that hands over data centre space and processing power from the goodness of its heart, have you?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, but no but...

        "If you genuinely believe they have provided this service altruistically thats great but I have yet to find a company that hands over data centre space and processing power from the goodness of its heart, have you?"

        I don't believe they've done it out of the goodness of their heart, no.

        It seems far more likely that they've done it to sell iDevices rather than to steal information, though.

  12. Steve Evans

    Not a good idea...

    If anyone out there hadn't realised that sending messages via a single point was a bad idea, Blackberry illustrated it very nicely indeed only a few months ago.

    The carriers do know a thing or two about running resilient networks, so for all their faults I would trust them with a message far more than Apple/RIM.

    Plus there is the security issue, isn't any data which crosses into the USA from outside deemed fair game for snooping?

    1. foxyshadis

      This is more robust than BBM

      But much less secure - if the phone doesn't get a delivery confirmation within a specific time period, 5 minutes I believe, it will send the message over SMS instead. You lose all encryption but you gain total robustness.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. bastage42

    Google Wireless Infrastructure

    "At least not until Apple, Google et al own national wireless infrastructures of their own. "

    Maybe that's why Google's been mapping everyone's WLAN?


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