From Talk to Text, Part 2: Enabling Texting and Multimedia Services for Toll-Free Numbers

Somos is currently developing a new registry to enable texting and other multimedia services for Toll-Free Numbers. Previously we spoke to Alan Stiffler, Somos' vice president of business development, about this critical initiative and the related business drivers. In this post, Alan shares his insights on how the system will work and provides more details on the introduction timeline.

Briefly, can you tell us what led to the development of a new registry?

For the past few years, Toll-Free subscribers have been telling us that their customers either cannot or do not always want to have a voice conversation. Instead, they would like to send a text, photo — or even a video — and they want to use the same Toll-Free Number regardless of the mode of communication.

The problem has been that there is no formal, industry-wide system to support multimedia Toll-Free services. Instead, we have had ad hoc processes to text enable Toll-Free Numbers, which has led to several challenges. For example, Toll-Free Numbers have been text enabled without the subscriber’s knowledge. And in some cases, messages were redirected to parties that were not related to the Toll-Free subscriber.

CTIA, the industry trade association that oversees wireless and messaging services, responded to the current situation and formed a Working Group to develop a multi-stakeholder, market-driven solution. The group — which included messaging providers, wireless companies, and Toll-Free service providers among others — reached a consensus on the need for a neutral, third-party to develop a solution.

Given our experience, Somos quickly became the obvious choice to develop the registry. We were asked to develop a master directory that is easily accessible to all appropriate organizations and integrates with the Somos Toll-Free Number Registry to preserve number integrity.

How will the new registry work?

The Texting and Smart Services (TSS) Registry will be an independent system and will operate separately from the SMS/800 Toll-Free Number (TFN) Registry. However, it will integrate seamlessly with the SMS/800 TFN Registry to receive regular updates and ensure that only working Toll-Free Numbers are made available for text enablement.

Companies that want to offer texting services on Toll-Free Numbers — which we call Service Registrars — will be able to activate these numbers in the TSS Registry and provide routing information for all messages. The TSS Registry then validates that the Toll-Free Number is a working number and identifies the Toll-Free service provider — or Responsible Organization (Resp Org) — associated with the number.

A notification is then sent to the Resp Org, who provides an authorization for the activation of the non-voice services. (We will provide more details on this process in an upcoming article.)

Once the validations and notifications are completed, the TSS Registry distributes the text enablement status — including the routing information — into the messaging ecosystem. All wireless carriers, messaging hub providers, and routing database providers will have access to this information to assure the accurate and timely delivery of all messages directed to and from Toll-Free Numbers.

What is the importance of the CTIA’s support of the TSS Registry?

Many of the key stakeholders in the messaging ecosystem are members of CTIA, and they want to ensure that multimedia Toll-Free services are support by a multi-stakeholder, market-driven solution.

And because Somos does not compete with any service providers in the Toll-Free or messaging ecosystem, we can provide non-discriminatory access and fee structures for all users that adhere to CTIA’s guidelines.

What is the development status for the TSS Registry?

We are issuing a limited beta release this month, which will include all Toll-Free Numbers that are text enabled as of April 20, 2015. Both Service Registrars and Resp Orgs will be able to set up an account on the system by the end of the month. Soon thereafter, Service Registrars will be able to text enable Toll-Free Numbers (in limited quantities, at first), and Resp Orgs will begin receiving notifications of any enable requests for their numbers.

A production release is scheduled to be available in late June/early July. We’ll provide more details in future posts.

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