UPDATE: Text messaging agreement reached in Canada, U.S.

An announcement made on Thursday will bring Canada and the U.S. closer – at least in the text messaging sense.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) and its U.S. counterpart, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CITA) said they have reached an agreement that will enable phone customers to exchange text messages – a service that has been in the works since last year.

In Canada, the service will be offered by Bell Mobility, Microcell Telecommunications Inc., Rogers AT&T Wireless, Telus Mobility, Manitoba Telecom Services and SaskTel Mobility. South of the border, the players include AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, Nextel Communications Inc., Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

The CWTA said the announcement made today signifies the service is now commercially available in Canada, after extensive testing took place to ensure the service worked between the two main camps, Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS).

“Until now you could only send short message service (SMS) in Canada but it was really restricted to customers within their own carriers. So if you were a Rogers customer, you could SMS to a Rogers customer but that [was] about it,” explained Marc Choma, director of communications at the CWTA in Ottawa.

It was last April when the CWTA – along with the wireless carriers in Canada – first announced they had begun the undertaking to develop the inter-carrier text messaging system. The messaging gateways are being operated by LogicaCMG and the Wireless Services Corp.

Giga Information Group research director Brownlee Thomas said what Canada has accomplished is a “pioneering” achievement in allowing the two competing systems to work together, although there are unresolved issues the carriers have yet to address.

The limitations, Thomas explained, are numerous. For example, including spaces, letters and numbers, an SMS message is only able to handle approximately 160 characters at a time – a meagre amount, according to Thomas. As well, when a message is sent, there is no confirmation delivered to the sender to inform him or her that the receiver actually got the message. Thomas noted that while the announcement made today is an important achievement, it will likely go relatively unnoticed because text messaging hasn’t had the same remarkable penetration rates as in Europe and Asia.

“Without this service level guarantee, a confirmation of receiving it, it’s a consumer product, not a business product,” Thomas said.

Telus Mobility spokesperson Catherine Creally said the bulk of current text messaging users is indeed the “younger consumer” that has picked up on the technology first.

She added that messages sent with more than 140 characters would be split into two shorter versions when delivered.

And, having just solved the interoperability issue, Creally said there aren’t any current plans to develop a system to alert a sender that a sent message was received.

The CWTA is online at www.cwta.ca.