Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How to Send International Texts (SMS)

Today, Mark is going to outline some of the things he has learned about sending transatlantic SMS messages:

A couple of months ago, Viola gave me a guest spot to explain how we are using New Technology and Old-Fashioned Communication to write letters and telephone people back at home in the UK. One thing I didn't tackle there is the question of sending text messages internationally, something I've recently spent some time exploring because I had struggled to send international texts from my mobile phone. So this post explores ways in which you can send texts internationally. The remarkable thing is that you don't even need a mobile phone to do it. Note: in the UK, your mobile phone is always called your "mobile". Here in the US, the term "mobile" is understood, but everyone uses the term "cell phone" or "cell".

Woman selling mobile phones.  Caption: Latest, latest! Not just SMS.  It has SMS with spell check!
For some reason, outgoing SMS text messaging on my American mobile phone (Verizon Wireless) only works with some UK networks. So I find that there are some friends and family in the UK that I can text and some I can't. This is, of course, not very convenient and it is not cheap either, at something like 20¢ per text message sent. On the other hand, I seem to be able to receive texts from almost any UK mobile. So my mind turned to discovering whether it was possible to do some (outgoing) international texting cheaply via the internet. The issue was focused particularly by a family birthday (when texting often has to substitute for a card, sorry!) and by the World Cup, when texting friends and family adds to the excitement during the England matches.

If you are wanting simply to send free texts from your PC to someone's mobile within North America, it's easy. The service I've tried and tested, and which work fine, is SMS Everywhere -- a simple web interface for sending free texts. Or for email to mobile phone, try Teleflip, where you simply email (yourcellphonenumber)@teleflip.com. But this doesn't solve the international problem. For this, there is something that looks like an ideal solution if you can get it to work for you. CBFSMS allows you to type your text message into an SMS Gateway on the web and so send free texts to British mobile phones. Alas, it doesn't work for me -- our ISP is blocked because of abuse. As far as I am aware, that's it for free options, but there are several other relatively cheap ways of sending texts to the UK via the internet.

The one that is working well for me is a new service from Skype, Skype SMS. You can access it from within Skype, and so it works off your Skype Out credit (the money you have deposited for phoning your friends and family back home). To get access to this, you need to download Skype 2.5 BETA. I've tested it several times and it's working well for me, and costs under 10¢ per text sent, considerably cheaper than my mobile rate. At present, the service is outgoing only, but it allows you to set up your profile so that you can receive texts back on your mobile, which works well for me since I have no problem receiving international texts. So now I am sorted, at least as long as I am near my laptop and with an internet connection, which is most of the time.

Other ways of texting people back in the UK include using the UK Yahoo! pages, but this is very convoluted and costs 10p a text. I'd be interested to hear of any other good ways of cracking this problem. Wikipedia has a useful article on SMS Gateways, but it's geared mainly to North American users. In summary:

  • SMS Everywhere your North American contacts for free
  • CBFSMS your British contacts for free, but it blocks some ISPs
  • Skype SMS your international contacts at an OK price (outgoing only).
[As an aside, you might have fun with SMS Dictionary. It even has a babelfish-style translator. (Ed.)]


Michael said...

I am slo blocked by CBFSMS, but I have been able to use http://www.swagsms.com/ with no problem to text the UK.

smn2 said...

cbfsms.com doesn't always work for everyone I've noticed. SheriffRatings.com is a better option nowadays - fast, free sms and all you have to do is register, and write a few product/service reviews (I think).


PS I've created a modest guide to free sms for UK, here - TextMeFree.co.uk - if you're interested, of course! Lol

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