“Buy milk. Love, the fridge”: how SMS messages came to rule the Internet of Things

Anna Sopova
Use cases

The population of the internet outstrips the population of the earth by 5-6 times, with an approximate 40 billion “residents” of its own. Only a third of this population can be attributed to smartphones, tablets and PCs, while the remaining global network is a user base of various other “things,” like cars, refrigerators, adult toys, smart factory equipment... At least, that’s how the world is supposed to look soon according to a recent forecast by ABI Research.

All of these “things” in today’s world have learned to exchange information both with one another, and people. And when it comes to the latter, the type of communication is looking increasingly similar to what humans are already used to. Cars can now recognize voice commands, smart scales send smileys on messengers, and fire systems can call a building owner directly. Even today’s toaster isn’t such a bad conversation partner.

Modern things are learning to speak with people in the same language and through “human” channels, including phones, messengers and SMS.

How the IoT came to be

The Internet of Things (IoT) first started making headlines in 2014, but the first-ever internet-enabled toaster was presented at the Interpop conference in 1990. The toaster connected to the internet with TCP/IP networking, and the power could be controlled online. Fast-forward to 2017, and the Internet of Things is already an inextricable part of global life. This can be attributed to several reasons:

  • lower broadband internet prices
  • more devices with built-in Wi-Fi and special transmitters
  • the introduction of cloud services
  • widespread smartphone popularity

According to ABI Research’s market forecast, the world is set to have more than 40.9 bln internet-enabled devices by 2020, 68% of which can be classified as IoT, with just the remaining 32% made up of traditional PCs, tablets and smartphones. Industry specialists have also stated that the number of “online” vehicles will jump to 152 mln by 2020, and wireless light bulbs and lights will reach over 100 mln (compared to just 2.4 mln in 2013).

The Internet of Things is formed from a rich network of the most varied devices, all of which can talk, as it were, among themselves and with humans. While traditionally it has always been the person who initiates communication with a device by first sending a request, with IoT the opposite is now also a reality: devices can speak to one another or people first entirely on their own.

Business optimization through SMS messages

Text messages can be used as the basis for a whole series of crucial operations in a business or its production facilities. Take for instance the smart wireless fuel storage tank monitoring device developed by Electronic Sensors (company). In most cases, the majority of gas station operations are performed manually, which means data on available and remaining fuel quantities is sent to the supplier with a considerable delay. In turn, this results in less than optimal product availability and can even negatively affect profits. Thankfully, the company’s Level Devil product line, with its broadband internet connection and satellite navigation, can gauge precise fuel levels in a gas station’s storage tanks independently in real time, and send SMS messages with the most up-to-date stats to anyone who needs them.

This helps operations run much smoother. For instance, tank truck drivers can receive text messages on exactly how much fuel needs to be delivered and where. Mobile internet access on the road is often either spotty or completely non-existent, but an SMS will always make it to the recipient. Plus, text message services make it easy to track what messages were sent out and when they were received.

Another example of how text messages are used today to optimize work processes can be found in the restaurant and food storage industries. Here, smart devices from Sentry monitor temperatures required for food safety in refrigerators and refrigerated warehouses. If the temperature ever goes outside of the set range, an SMS is sent out automatically. Time is of the essence here, as prompt notification can save food from spoiling and prevent financial losses.

At this point it isn’t unreasonable to assume that soon refrigerators will be tracking our grocery levels and sending us text messages with exactly what we need to pick up at the store. Or they’ll start placing orders for business purposes independently, sending the accounting department an invoice and notifying warehouse workers on the new product’s arrival time via SMS.

Remote servers and sites can also send SMS messages to technical specialists on the resolution or identification of new issues.

Databases from SMS

SMS messages help transmit large quantities of simple information from data collection devices to more centralized management services. For example, weather stations are able to send data-filled text messages on wind speed to meteorological centers to improve the accuracy of weather predictions.

SMS messages for safety and support

The majority of smart home security devices are designed to send text messages to owners. If a smart system detects a potential break-in or intruder alert, they can also send an SMS directly to police dispatch. If the issue is a burst pipe, the sensors pinpoint the location and send a text message to the homeowner. They can even detect gas leaks, smoke or the general air quality in your home, with full reports sent out via text. Thanks to this feature, users can be sure they always stay informed of any issues fast, and can act accordingly.

Today, there are even smart pillboxes that send users notifications on when to take their medicine, or when supplies are running low. There is also a wearable gadget available that sends text message readouts on the wearer’s blood pressure. Plus, movement sensors on wearable tech for older persons can also send notifications to doctors or relatives if activity levels fall dramatically, cease all together (for instance, the patient falls and can’t get up, or is laid up sick), the patient is running a fever or their pulse drops.

SMS messages are available on any phone

Regardless of current smartphone and messenger app trends, the number of people with regular keypad phones is still significant. When text messages are used, these users get access to all the same benefits of IoT devices as smartphone users. SMS messages can be received by any mobile phone, even models that today are considered long out of date. For example, a laundromat owner can receive text notifications on when a certain washing machine has finished its cycle, regardless of if they have a smartphone or not. The same scenario also works for any home: wash cycle over, time for the dryer! And all this no matter what phone a person has.

SMS messages can be used to manage smart devices from practically anywhere, as they’re available wherever there’s a cellular signal, even with no internet connection. In one scenario, if a child comes home from school and nobody is home, the parents can disable the smart security system with a single SMS, and even open the door remotely. Smart locks can also be opened and closed with nothing more than a simple text message.

“Buy milk. Love, the fridge,” might already be closer than we think. With an SMS messaging API like Apifonica’s, any smart device can send and receive text messages.

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