Test highlights slow delivery of wireless SMS messages

A high-volume live test of cellular telephone networks operated by the six major U.S. carriers showed that it can take as long as 10 minutes to deliver simple short message service (SMS) messages.

In the test last month, Mspect Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based developer of quality of service monitoring systems for the wireless Internet, sent 35,000 SMS messages, each less than 1K bits in size, via e-mail to multiple handsets in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The company's distributed monitoring system then assessed delivery times.

AT&T Wireless Services Inc. in Redmond, Wash., and Verizon Wireless Inc. in Bedminster N.J., tied for the speed record, delivering 84 percent of their messages in less than 30 seconds.

By contrast, Cingular Wireless in Atlanta, Nextel Communications Inc. in Reston, Va., Sprint PCS Group in Kansas City, Mo., and Voicestream Wireless Corp., in Bellevue, Wash., delivered on average just 46 percent of their messages within the same time frame.

The survey pegged Nextel as the most reliable SMS carrier because it delivered 98 percent of the messages sent over its network in less than 10 minutes. The other major carriers, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless, took more than 10 minutes to deliver the remainder of their SMS traffic, Mspect said. In other words, even though AT&T and Verizon delivered the vast majority of their SMS messages quickly, the messages that weren't delivered right way could take longer than 10 minutes to reach their destination.

Wildly popular in Europe and Japan, where billions of messages are sent each month, SMS has just started to penetrate the U.S. market as carriers roll out the service. But delivery delays could slow U.S. acceptance of the service, said Mark Adams, CEO of Mspect. He said Mspect's monitoring system "regularly identifies outages on carrier's networks here and in Europe, which could, hamper adoption efforts."

Except for Sprint PCS and Cingular, none of the carriers with slow delivery times in the Mspect test could be reached immediately for comment.

Nancy Sherrer, a Sprint spokeswoman, said "sending messages via e-mail to various handsets É is not a true test of the Sprint PCS network capability. Once a customer hits Send to send the message to a handset, [the message] can encounter multiple points of failure before it reaches our network."

Elliott Hamilton, an analyst at The Strategis Group in Washington, disputed that, saying delays are inherent in an SMS network. "The messages have to queue up for delivery, and if there's a lot of traffic, there's going to be a back up in the queue," he said.

Peter Nilsson, a spokesman for Cingular Wireless, said his company needs more time to evaluate Mspect's data and methodology before commenting on the test results.

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