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 …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  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 Silver badge

      "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?

  15. dubnde

    "I expect better from the Register."

    Are you for real?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I think people complaining that iMessage [and BBS, for that matter] does not work across platforms are missing the point. Apple gains nothing by opening up iMessage to other platforms. But while it's limited to iOS devices only, it provides an added incentive for iPhone users to 'sell' the iPhone to friends and family members in the market for a new phone; "If you had an iPhone too, we could text each other as much as we want, for free"

    Personally, I'm well chuffed with iMessage. Although I get 300 free texts a month on my O2 PAYG package, that only includes actual SMS text messages. I would still get charged for MMS picture messages. With iMessage I can send pictures for free too, which is great.

    As regards delivery times, the first iMessage I sent took about ten mins to come through, making me think that it was going to be a similarly crappy service to those various websites which let you send SMS for free, but take hours to deliver them. However, every subsequent iMessage I've sent has come through instantaneously [I know this because I've been royally abusing the system by sending the missus stupid pictures off the internet, while she's sat next to me on the sofa]

    So, maybe the first iMessage takes a while as some kind of account setup takes place on Apple's servers, or could it be that Apple are using something akin to Dropbox's syncing procedure whereby, if the recipient is on the same wifi network, the message is delivered directly, rather than being routed via Apple's servers?

    1. alun phillips


      We could text each other for free and it doesn't matter that I have a mere Android and you a (cr)Apple device, and again that includes MMS and all the other stuff

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        except.. have to persuade all your friends to pay for an app if you want to text them, and you don't get all your messages in the same place, and if your service drops out, you don't have an instant back up (sms). Just sayin.

        IMO iMessage is pretty decent, when it works. I have some friends that it seems to work fine with, but for some reason, messages sent between myself and the mrs, are completely sporadic, sometimes they go stright through, sometimes they take ages, and other times they dont go through at all and have to be re-sent as sms, we cant odds it.

        The one thing that annoys me about the whole iMessage thing, is that its billed as a free messaging service, which is true all the time your on wifi, but when you start using it on 3g, instead of having messages pulled out of your sms allowance (which is often a ridiculously huge amount), data starts trickling out of your data allowance, (which while generally adequate, might not be when footing your bill on your text message habit)

        1. Marcelo Rodrigues


          Better pay for the APP than pay for the mobile, don't You think?

          Yes, we don't get all the messages on the same place. But I'll survive.

          It's true that if the WhatsApp servers are down, we are out of service. But the messages have feedback about their status (sent, not sent, received, etc), so You can always send an SMS...

  17. Chris Beattie

    I didn't use SMS much until about a year-and-a-half ago. Then I had to choose between a $25/month extra charge for WAP browsing and unlimited text messages on a regular mobile phone, or $30/month extra for unlimited data and a smartphone.

    It was kind of a no-brainer. I went with the smartphone and Google Voice. Google Voice requires a data connection, so it isn't as robust as SMS. However, I have good data coverage most everywhere I care to go, and I can still fall back to SMS if I really need to.

    Google was already reading my mail, so letting them read my text messages wasn't that much of an extra worry.

  18. Andy Mac

    Sent my wife an iMessage. She didn't get it. iMessage? Turned off. Stays off.

    1. Paw Bokenfohr

      SMS is the same.

      There's no SLA or Service Guarantee for SMS, and in my 15+ years of using SMS as a service (yes, I was one of Orange's first subscribers) I've had plenty of SMSs not arrive, but you just shrug your shoulders and move on. Or have a hissy fit at the provider, get told "tough luck, those are the terms" and then shrug your shoulders and move on. Not saying that that's something I might have done in the past of course....

      It's the same with all similar communications; email, BBM, MMS, letter post etc etc etc - anything you send isn't absolutely guaranteed to arrive. If it's a vital communication, you just have to call them and speak to them; that way, you know the message is received and understood.

  19. Julesthom


    I have free unlimited SMS messages, so iMessage doesn't really offer any benefit on that front - other than free delivery reports.

    The real bonus is MMS - I was paying around 30p per picture message, and sending around 20 or 30 a month. These are now free over iMessage to other iOS users, so I'm probably saving a fair few quid a month...

  20. marc 9

    Use it all the time

    I like the fact that it syncs conversations between my iPad and iPod. The abaility to send decent quality photos and videos is nice too. It just proves it's all about ease of use, as Android has had Google Talk built in for years but nobody I know uses it to replace SMS. My phone is Android so I revert to SMS when I'm away from WiFI. I can't see Apple ever release an Android client for iMessage....

  21. Michael Kean

    Google "Talk"

    I make similar use of "Google Talk" with some family members. Funny how it's not on all handsets 'tho - I guess that's a carrier thing, or it might just not be compatible with small-screen devices. (Google talk is an MSN / YIM / WLM like chat app, but fairly resilient.)

    A certain irony in calling it 'talk' when it's used to 'text chat' where as 'voice' is used to 'talk'.


  22. cocknee

    WhatsApp you know it makes sense.

    I'm not an Apple fan but this is a step in the right direction. Especially useful when Gits like O2 now charge for international texts and stopped picture messages as part of the monthly bundle.

    However, as usual with Apple, it's just for their customers as BBM is for theirs.

    But WhatsApp is platform independent. Allows texts, pictures and videos, also tells you if it's been delivered. It'll use you connection, which is wifi or 3h. Perfect!

  23. JeffyPooh

    After SMS, voice might be next...

    Sort of an Apple-does-iSkype approach.

  24. TheOtherJola

    SMS-not-routed-over-cellco-if-not-routed-over-cellco SHOCKER

    At first I thought your graph depicted a nationwide stat, or something like that. But to see a graph that shows a reduction in SMS messages consumed after you install a program that reduces the number of messages routed over SMS .... well, what were you expecting?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Issues with iMessage

    Me and my partner share an email address for some things. The other day my friend (iPhone 4s) tried to message me it was actually sent to my girlfriend who also has a 4s because she has iMessage enabled even though he selected me in his contacts.

    Other times I have had messages sent to my iPad which is at home slurping the WiFi while nothing gets sent to my non-apple phone.

    If you ask siri to "SMS blahblah" it will still try to send iMessage.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fantastic for overseas texting & picture messaging

    Thanks to iMessage I no longer pay to text/MMS my friends in Ireland and Australia. I would never have sent pictures before due to the outrageous cost but now it's free it's really made things easier. Add to that the delivered/read reports and it beats traditional SMS any day of the week.

  27. Annihilator Silver badge

    "Free" mesages

    I'm enjoying the delusion of many posters who think "I get free messages, so it doesn't matter". You most certainly DON'T get "free" messages from your telco. The mobile companies charge each other fractions of pennies to route between their networks and pass that cost on to you somewhere, probably in your monthly contract.

    SMS is possibly the biggest rip-off on the planet - the average is about 4p these days I believe, for 1120bits of data, often unused. No wonder it was initially dismissed by telcos as a service no-one would want, they must have thought to themselves "surely we can't get away with this?"

    Be sure that they are bricking it regarding their revenue streams in the same way they don't want Skype or Facetime on their networks. I'm amazed they let this, BBM and WhatsApp to exist too.

  28. MN

    cross-platform would work...

    ...if everyone embraced it. Windows Phone has MSN and Facebook chat integrated into its messaging system, both of which could probably be baked into iOS/Android.

    Of course, as I'm the only person I know who has a Windows Phone, the only benefit I get it messaging people who are sat at a computer, or who happen to be in whatever MSN app they use on their phones, but I guess it's a step in the right direction!

  29. OrangeMikey
    Thumb Up

    I was pleasantly surprised to find I could send messages at midnight between New Years Eve and New Years Day for the first time in years, albeit only to my iMessage capable friends, but it's a good way of avoiding the phone network when it's overloaded with SMS traffic.

    I also have a few friends abroad so these fall outside a normal SMS bundle, but iMessage makes the world smaller too.

  30. NHS IT guy
    Thumb Up

    It's an international win

    I have friends and colleagues all over the world, most of whom (for one reason or another) seem to use iPhones. Previously I had to choose between emailing them or paying through the nose for the privilege of saying hello and asking how they were.

    Now not only can I say hello, ask how they are, I can see pictures of my friends in Amsterdam and videos from my family in New Zealand free of charge. I can chat away to my brother who is working in Brussels like he's down the road.

  31. AF

    +1 for WhatsApp

    I suspect WhatsApp had a bigger impact on SMS usage, as it works across platforms - iMessage only works on iOS devices (and even then it can be tricky if you have contacts with multiple email addresses or phone numbers).

  32. hexx

    iMessage was a god send for me. finally i can communicate with friends abroad easily without the need of an email, can send pictures, video and so on. anywhere there's a connection wifi/3g/edge.

    and if somebody doesn't have an iphone they have ipad or ipod - problem solved

  33. Jay Croghan
    Thumb Up

    Rip off merchants to begin with.

    When I got my very first mobile phone way back in the mid 90's text messaging was free, it was only after the operators realised it could generate revenue that it became a paid-for service so I see this as a get back at the operators. Roll on iMessage I say!

  34. Clickatell


    Do the math, 5.3 Billion mobile phones do primarily 2 things 1) SMS & 2) Voice. There are only 83 Million iPhones sold to date (bet you have ore than 1) that is less than 1,5% etc, etc. SMS will be here for a while the same way credit cards has not replaced cash and Skype has not replaced phones by a long shot; by the way it ain't bad we all use SMS every day, in fact SMS is the #1 app on ALL smart phones and even iMessage use SMS on the back-end to reach the other 98.5 % of mobile phones on the planet. Yes, SMS is the Gorilla in the room last time anyone checked.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021