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One of the main technology design decisions ICT initiatives face is whether to transmit data via Short Message Service (SMS) or General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). SMS is a tool built into any modern cellphone which allows its users to send short messages, typically between 70 and 160 characters, over the voice network. GPRS is a mobile data service which allows certain phones to send and receive information using the internet protocol (IP), the same messaging technology which powers the World Wide Web. While an SMS-based system has no specific phone requirements, a system that relies on GPRS data transmission requires Java-enabled handsets that are capable of supporting mobile applications.


 SMSMobile Application
Phone Requirements
  • Standard built-in feature of all GSM phones
  • Java-enabled phones and smartphone
Setup Cost
  • Low upfront cost
  • Can use existing phones, doesn't require investment in project-dedicated handsets for end users. Lower the likelihood of data leak out in projects where workers share project-specific phones with family members
  • High upfront cost
  • Project-dedicated handsets.
  • Significant coordination is required to ensure appropriate use of project-specific phones to avoid data leaking out to non-affiliated community members due to phone-sharing behavior (especially true for projects involving large facilities or user groups, where lines delineating phone ownership may be fluid.
IT Demand
  • No need to install anything
  • Low demand for technical capacity 
  • Low training barriers
  • Greater effort around installation and troubleshooting: Typically requires installing a software application on the phone. This can be anything from a browser or email client to a custom software application
  • More training effort is required
Data Collection & Transmission Cost
  • Data sent within an SMS-based system is often limited to the amount of data allowed in a single SMS (limited to 70, 140, or 160 characters, depending on the type of character encoding used)
  • Transmission cost might add up quickly and be high when systems go to scale or use cases involve frequent messaging (such as on a daily basis)
  • Significantly lower transmission costs than an SMS-based system
  • Significantly lower operational costs as projects scale than an SMS-based system
Data Security
  • Rarely secure
  • GPRS provides guaranteed delivery using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)
  • Delivery information in a secure, authenticated manner by data encryption in transmission
User Experience
  • Well-recognized communication medium familiar to many people that can run directly on off-the-shelf, unmodified phones
  • The free-form nature of SMS text messages can lead to significant user input error and confusion
  • Strict syntax and character limits
  • Delayed or dropped messages
  • Allow for richer and better quality data by supporting multi-step data validation and the ability to track a higher number of commodities than through SMS
  • More user-friendly experience in allowing project coordinators to incorporate pictures or audio to support low-literate users
  • SMS-based systems for national programs typically require negotiating a toll-free shortcode and this can mean an arduous, long-term, and expensive negotiation process spanning months, or even years, if the SMS aggregator industry is not well evolved
  • Suitable for projects collecting a small amount of data and information among a large group of users
  • For projects collecting multiple types and large amount of data among users





Because SMS capability is a standard built-in feature of all GSM phones, a project that relies on data transmission via SMS does not require implementers to invest in project-dedicated handsets for end users. In addition to reducing upfront costs, using existing phones also bypasses significant coordination that is required to ensure appropriate use of project-specific phones. This is especially true for projects involving large facilities or user groups, where lines delineating phone ownership may be fluid. Workers sharing project-specific phones with family members may reduce the availability of phones at project sites and/or increase the likelihood that sensitive data will leak out to non-affiliated community members.