SMS not the answer in an emergency: ACA

Mobile users should not rely on short message service (SMS) in an emergency, warned the Australian Communications Authority (ACA).

ACA chair Tony Shaw said SMS was a 'store and forward' service. "It is not a 'real time' service, like a voice call. There are just too many variables that can affect the delivery time of SMS messages."

The warning follows approaches by some sections of the community to emergency service organisations, particularly the police, asking them to offer an SMS-based emergency service.

"Our concern is that consumers may assume that the 'message sent' icon means the [relevant] emergency service has received the message. But this is only confirmation that the message has been sent to the SMS centre within the sender's network," Shaw said.

"Some carriers do offer confirmation that a message has been received, but this is not suitable in emergencies, because it does not confirm any action by the recipient."

Shaw said while SMS delivery times to a handset within the sender's network were generally short in areas with strong coverage, there was a higher probability of delays in delivery to other networks.

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Kelly Mills

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