Text me! Why is SMS still popular in the Caribbean in 2016?

Although most Caribbean mobile phone owners overlook it, SMS or text messaging is widely used in the region. Four reasons why are discussed.

Thanks to the increasing availability and affordability of smartphones and mobile broadband in the Caribbean, with respect to non-voice communication, users appear to prefer instant messaging (IM) services, such as Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and even Viber, to name a few. Generally, when planning to connect with others, those applications (apps) tend to be the go-to options, rather than using the Short Messaging Service (SMS). SMS, also referred to as text messaging, is rarely mentioned.

However, ironically and in this day and age – 2016 to be exact – SMS is still a force in the region. Although frequently it is overlooked, here are four reasons why it is still popular.

Every phone has SMS capability

As sophisticated as the mobile/cellular phone has become, every device – from the most basic of handsets to the most high-end of smartphones – possesses SMS capability. It therefore means that fundamentally, every mobile/cellular device on a mobile/cellular network can communicate with each other: by voice calls and by text messaging.

An attractive channel for marketing and other services

Through the network operator, third parties can connect directly with every phone on the network – once they are prepared to pay. For example, SMS has been popular for marketing campaigns and to provide a broad range of services to people in the lower socioeconomic brackets – a large segment of the population – who tend to own basic handsets. Hence, SMS can provide considerable revenue generation opportunities for network operators.

Not everyone is connected to the Internet

Across the region, much of the attention of policymakers, regulators and the media has  been focussing on securing more affordable mobile broadband services, as currently, prices still tend to be beyond the budget of a large proportion of citizens. As a result, for those who cannot comfortably afford mobile broadband, they either tend to subscribe for it on an ad hoc basis as a prepaid service, and/or rely almost exclusively on free Wi-Fi services for connectivity. Consequently, and more often than not, those individuals are unlikely to have Internet connectivity, but can still message others via SMS.

Second, when service coverage and quality across Caribbean countries are considered, frequently, there are still areas (pockets) in most countries, especially in rural areas, where mobile/cellular service is spotty at best. Further, in those areas, mobile broadband technologies are likely not to be readily available or accessible. Hence in those pockets, and regardless of how fancy a device an individual might have, IM services tend to be rendered useless. Once again, there is a greater likelihood of being able to communicate via SMS.

An important medium for critical services

Finally, the virtually continuous availability of SMS, regardless of device and once mobile/cellular networks are functioning, has made it a preferred medium to deliver critical information. Two circumstances that readily come to mind are during times of disaster, and as part of a two-step authentication process.

In the lead-up to, even during, and certainly following a natural disaster, for example, SMS is essential emergency management and coordination. On a mass scale, public advisories are disseminated via SMS, and residents can communicate on-the-ground developments in their communities, which can feed into the coordination and recovery efforts.

Regarding two-step authentication, increasingly online platforms are requiring their subscribers to provide a mobile/cellphone number to strengthen the security of their accounts. Hence, in addition to correctly providing a password when logging in, those platforms will send a text message with a code to the mobile/cellphone number on file, via SMS, and require that it also be entered to confirm (authenticate) the user.

Closing thoughts…

In summary, although newer text-based services and technologies have been getting most of the attention these days, there is still a need for SMS. Every mobile/cellular phone owner globally can be contacted via SMS, and can communicate with each other via SMS. With IM apps, two parties can successfully communicate when both of them are using the same app. For example, WhatsApp users cannot connect directly with Skype users; Viber users cannot communicate with those of Facebook Messenger. As a result, SMS will remain a powerful medium through which to communicate and to connect older and newer technologies. Hence although it might be overlooked, SMS is still a platform for innovation and disruption.


With IM being so popular and available, do you send SMS? If so, why? 

(Let us know in the Comments section)


Image credit:  Seb Lee-Delisle (flickr)



  • I use SMS for short msgs only. Most of my SMS comes from the service provider pushing advertisements. The most effective use that I see is by utility companies sending out bill notices.

    • Owen,

      Excellent point, re use by utility companies, and perhaps certain financial institutions – to remind us of our payment commitments! 🙂

      Regarding the telecoms service providers, frequently I feel bombarded by messages. Increasingly, we are getting wired subconsciously to check when we receive any kind of alerts, but if most of them, several times a day, are from the telco, I think people beginning to ignore them, and may delay checking their phones when there is a legitimate situation that deserves their attention.

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