5 Ways to SMS for free

207 Comments

A lot of us are still avid text messagers, not because we enjoy paying our carrier those tiring toll (or package) fees, but because it’s still one of the most reliable ways to get a text-based message to a cell phone user — not everyone has mobile IM clients or uses mobile email services.

Even web-based services are starting to recognize that, and recently there have been more and more companies launching “free” SMS options — most often free for those users who want to send a text to a cell phone via the web and email.

Sending free SMS from the Internet isn’t a new idea at all and companies have been developing the bridge between email and SMS for years. By now it’s a simple and easy service to set up and companies have started adding these services as a feature to bring in eyeballs.

Startups are also starting to get more creative with the business model (which was previously severely lacking) as well as the technology solution. At the same time they are learning to add privacy and best practices functions. Remember much of the time receiving the SMS message costs, and some of the services like free bulk messaging could have some not-so-nice spam potential. Be careful about signing up for any ol’ service and check out this list of good characteristics of SMS web services.

1). TeleFlip: TeleFlip has always been a favorite way to send “free” texts via email: ‘phone number’@teleflip.com. They still offer that service which they now call FlipOut, but they are also trying to turn their technology into a working business. I haven’t been able to test the new service yet (shown at DEMO), which is supposed to be out sometime this month, but they say it forwards your emails to your SMS inbox for free — 5,000 messages for per month. Hopefully they have a good management tool, as email spam can fill an SMS inbox pretty quickly and receiving text fees still apply.

2). Peekamo: Founded just November 2006 and based in Toronto according to their web site, Peekamo says they are different than other web-based SMS free sites, as both the receiver and sender don’t pay for the message. How do they manage that? — they say ad-sponsored messages, and using a protocol called short message peer to peer, (unlike the more common email-SMS method). When I sent a message from the web site to myself, it was sponsored by Sharp and had a link to Sharp’s web site www.moretosee.com. It’s still in beta, but is adding other social features.

3). Gizmo SMS: SIPphone has more than its fair share of sweet mobile services like the Gizmo Project, and earlier this month they also added a free web-based SMS service. The service works for dozens of countries and has a model ‘terms of service’ and privacy assurance sections. It’s not rocket science, but shows how these services are easy enough to create that they can be used to market the company’s other money-making solutions.

4). TxtDrop: TxtDrop founder 22-year-old Nate Kapitanski got some flack over his SMS MySpace widget and web service last year — the site didn’t launch with privacy terms and didn’t have an About section describing the company or its goals. He says the whole thing was a learning experience which helped make the site much better. As a result he added a privacy policy, email blocking, limited the number of messages that could be sent per minute, and says your phone number is now hidden in the MySpace code. Kapitanski, who only works on the project part time, also recently released a Mac OS dashboard SMS widget and says he is working on a Vista text gadget that could be out as early as April. There still isn’t a clear about section, but if you email the info address on the site, Kapitanski will probably oblige you on details you want to know.

5). Your carrier!? Yes, its true, some carriers have some limited web-to SMS and email to SMS services. On Verizon Wireless’ vtext.com site you can send a text to a Verizon wireless cell phone user, and send an SMS via email to “verizon wireless phone number”@vtext.com. Sprint has a similar web based service to text Sprint customers. They still get some money the more times people text using most solutions, so why not get more people to text their customers.

207 Comments

Whiteboard

I want to hear more about these companies…you gave us a taste, but I need specifics about how they work. For example how does Peekamo make it so that you as the receiver of a message don’t pay SMS fees? I guess that I could just jet over to their website and find out…

Shredder

Nick

The article says “5 Ways to SMS for free”, how does gotext fit into this?

phil

Check this out http://www.gotext.org. You can send web based sms directly from your phone with the cost of 1 eurocent (against 10 that carriers usually charge) and it works!

Their site is under reconstruction but it will be up very soon.

Steve

I agree… Zemble’s interface (www.zemble.com) is excellent. It also remembers your contacts and lets you create groups of friends to message, saving you time the more you use it.

jeff

Zemble.com has a really good interface for sending free messages and incorporates social networking aspects to make it much easier.

Al

In regards to single messaging, Peekamo also offers multi-recipient messaging, by allowing you to create groups that you can send a one-to-all message. Group messages can also be replied to from your phone.

Al

Actually Peekamo is free sms, because they don’t use smtp messaging like others do and you don’t have to worry about which carrier the recipient is with, they use SMPP messaging. The receiver does not pay. Ofcourse, in the US this is not the case since most carriers double dip and charge the sender and the receiver. In Canada and the rest of the world only the sender pays.

So there is such a thing as free SMS, now if only the US Carriers would get with it and follow a universal standard. We can all use Peekamo the way it was meant to be.

Greg Harris

I’m not sure I understand the value of sending a single message at a time from a web page. As someone else mentioned, all you need to do is add them to your AIM buddy list and you can sent it.

SMS becomes useful when you add 2-way interactivity.

Our service at http://www.mobivity.com allows you to receive incoming messages on a short code, and do bulk messages as well. You can interact with the sender and provide dynamic, relevant information as a response.

And by the way, no SMS is free. The receiver is always paying through their wireless plan. Even when using the carrier email gateways.

Leandro Ardissone

All those services works mainly for the US and EU.
SMS will never be free at all and easy to bring global support because this service is managed by the companies and not all they respect the standards or they uses different planning systems or something.

James

Cingular/AT&T has a text tool you can use from the “media” section of their site. I’m not sure if you have to know which network the user’s # is on. Or, you can email (for AT&T customers) WIRELESS#@mmode.com.

Mich

Just signed up for Peekamo.com and sent a message to a friend. She got it right away.
Great article Katie

Kaan

We want to add to our site SMS capability for a minimal fee, does anybody know how we can get cheap SMS , All the bulk carrier charger lot of money per SMS

Bryan Price

AIM has had an SMS gateway for sometime. I’ve added all of my family’s numbers to my buddy list, and send away. I even get replies back.

Yahoo! Messenger looks to have this (although I didn’t see any way to keep the phone number or link a name to it.) MSN will send an SMS if you have that person’s phone number entered in their contact information.

JT

Do any of these services support sending Chinese/Japanese characters (unicode) to subscribers of US wireless operators (T-Mobile, Verizon, Cingular, etc), assuming the receiver has a Chinese-capable handset? Sending Chinese and Japanese text messages phone-to-phone in the USA is rarely a problem, but sending through web-based apps seems to be trickier.

Katie Fehrenbacher

Frank, companies like TxtDrp aren’t making much money yet — its still a part time project for the creator.

Anonymous, yes true, in the US, the receiver pays for many of these solutions (not all), I think I made that clear in the article.

For any lost messages, the email-SMS method isnt reliable 100% of the time, its the nature of the service.

anonymous

FREE is not really FREE in US, is it?

You can send it free but the receiver needs to have a SMS Plan for which he/she pays.

Unless the carriers adopt a model where incoming SMS is FREE – it is not really FREE. Someone in the chain is paying.

Erik

Gizmo is terminating their messages by spamming all the carrier SMS email gateways.

I doubt that the carriers will allow them to do this very long. They’ll need to get a shortcode and pay like everyone else.

Chetan

GizmoSMS didn’t work for Airtel and Reliance in Bangalore, India.

2ni

gizmosms doesn’t seem to be reliable (at least for Switzerland). I never received the sms I ent…

Frank

I wonder how sites like TxDrop are making money? It is a free service with very little advertisement potential.

Shabbir

There is a similar service provided by Airtel (one of India’s largest wireless service provider). The service allows email-to-sms and sms-to-inbox_email_service. Works superbly. I believe the mobile subscriber has to pay as little as 15 INR (less than half a cent) monthly to activate and use the service with no limit on the number of messages.

4INFO Textme Widget

4INFO offers a customizable “Textme” widget which allows the sending of text messages to the widget’s owner at no charge to the sender (see http://www.4info.net/textme/create.jsp). People are placing these widgets on blogs, on MySpace pages, and on other social networking sites but I have no idea how pervasive they are. Mine seems to work and I get very little SMSpam.

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