SMS Gateway: What It Is (and What to Look For) - 2024

September 13, 2023 | By Sam Pelton
SMS gateway bridge graphic

Picture the ability to effortlessly transmit time-sensitive information, promotional messages, and critical alerts directly to your audience's mobile devices.

Well, you can—using an SMS gateway.

SMS gateways serve as the conduit that bridges the digital and mobile worlds, allowing you to send text messages for your business.

(After all, people check their phones all the time—an average of 96 times per day by one report.)

So what exactly is an SMS gateway? And how can you use it for your business? Does it matter which SMS gateway you use?

We’ll delve into those questions in this comprehensive guide, so that you can have all the info you need to make informed choices about SMS gateways and how to use them.

But first thing’s first…

What Is an SMS Gateway?

An SMS gateway is the digital “link” that connects various communication channels to SMS, enabling the seamless transmission of text messages from computer systems or applications to mobile devices, and vice versa.

Think of it as a digital postman, translating and delivering messages between the realms of the internet and the mobile network.

When you send an SMS from a website, application, or even an email client, the message doesn't magically appear on the recipient's phone; it's the SMS gateway's role to take that message, format it into SMS protocol, and push it off to the mobile carrier so that it can get successfully delivered to the recipient’s mobile device.

An SMS gateway allows businesses, organizations, and individuals to harness the power of SMS messaging for a multitude of purposes, from marketing campaigns and notifications to customer engagement and transaction alerts.

How Does an SMS Gateway Work?

Here's a step-by-step breakdown of how SMS gateways work…

  1. Message Submission: The journey begins when a message is submitted from an application, website, or another digital source to the SMS gateway. This message can be a simple text or it can contain media files (in which case it would technically be submitted to an MMS gateway, but the concept is the same).

  2. Message Formatting: Once the SMS gateway receives the message you submit, it transforms the message into a format that's compatible with the Short Message Peer-to-Peer (SMPP) protocol, which is the industry-standard protocol for SMS communication.

  3. Recipient Lookup: The gateway then performs a recipient lookup to determine the appropriate mobile network operator for the recipient's phone number.

  4. Network Routing: With the destination mobile carrier identified, the SMS gateway forwards the formatted message to the mobile network operator's messaging center. This messaging center serves as a hub for handling incoming and outgoing SMS traffic.

  5. Message Delivery: The mobile network operator's messaging center takes charge of delivering the message to the recipient's mobile device. This may involve further routing through various network components until the message reaches its intended destination.

  6. Delivery Report: Once the message is successfully delivered to the recipient's device, the mobile carrier often generates a delivery report. This report is then sent back to the SMS gateway, providing confirmation that the message did (or did not) reach the intended recipient.

The entire process, from message submission to delivery report, occurs within a matter of seconds, showcasing the efficiency and speed of SMS gateways.

This quick orchestration of steps ensures that messages are reliably transmitted across the complex network infrastructure. So businesses and individuals can use SMS (via these gateways) to communicate effectively with their audiences in real-time.

Flow charge showing SMS gateway process

Why Use an SMS Gateway?

The primary reason to use an SMS gateway is that SMS works.

People are constantly using their phones. Statista reports that in one survey, nearly half of respondents spent 5–6 hours per day on their phones engaged in non-work related activity.

By some reports, 98% of text messages are read. And one study among retailers found that SMS yielded a 6–8 times greater response rate than email, and a 23.3% conversion rate.

An SMS gateway allows you to take advantage of that power of SMS and incorporate it into your business’s flow.

Some use cases would include…

  • For promotional blasts (promotions, discounts, flash sales, etc.)
  • For product launch outreach
  • For appointment/event reminders
  • For transactional notices (2FA, order confirmations, shipping notices, etc.)
  • For customer service interactions
  • For announcements
  • For internal company notices

Nearly every business could benefit from a tool like this to help make communication as effective as possible.

What to Look for in an SMS Gateway

When considering an SMS gateway for your communication needs, here are a few key features to look for:

Ease of Use

What you don’t want is an SMS gateway option that’s difficult to set up and use.

It’s better to find something that’s user-friendly enough so that it’s not a huge amount of hassle to figure out.

Find something that’s easy and intuitive and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

Reliability and Delivery Rate

The cornerstone of any successful SMS campaign is the gateway's ability to ensure message delivery. Because if people aren’t receiving your messages, then those messages won’t be effective!

Look for an SMS gateway that is focused on high delivery rates. Many times, this will come down to the type of phone numbers used to send the text messages.

The most reliable option in regards to message delivery is a short code. However, short codes can be pricey, so the more affordable option that still has decent delivery rates is a 10DLC (10-digit long code).

Scalability and Capacity

Your messaging needs may grow and you may have a need for greater messaging capabilities. You’ll want to choose a provider that offers scalable solutions capable of handling increased message volume.

Whether you're a small business looking to expand or an enterprise catering to a massive user base, the SMS gateway should accommodate your growing demands.

API Integration and Customization

A robust API (Application Programming Interface) allows you to seamlessly connect the SMS gateway with your existing systems, applications, or websites.

Integration like this helps you have a smooth data exchange so that you can automate the message-sending process.

The Right Pricing Model

SMS gateway services come in a variety of pricing models.

The most popular is subscription-based, upfront billing that gives you access to a certain number of monthly messaging credits.

But you can also find pay-by-message pricing and arrears billing.

If you find a service that you like but they don’t offer the pricing model you’re looking for, you may be able to get in touch with them and see if they’ll work with you on what you’re looking for.

Customer Support and Onboarding

What if you need help getting started? What if you run into a problem somewhere down the line and need additional assistance? What if you have a billing concern?

It’s in these instances and more that you want access to readily available and friendly customer support so that you can get all your questions and concerns addressed in a prompt and professional manner.

So look for an SMS gateway that offers available and helpful customer support—especially as you’re first getting started.

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3 SMS Gateway Providers

If you’re looking for an SMS gateway provider, here are 3 contenders you can consider.

Mobile Text Alerts

Our service Mobile Text Alerts offers an SMS gateway that you can access via API, via an out-of-the-box online platform, or via a mobile app.

It has all the functionality you’d expect from an SMS platform, plus interesting features like the SmartSMS AI tools (including Shortener, Suggest, and Image Generator).

Plans start at $20/month, but you can get a free trial for 14 days with 50 messaging credits to try it out.

You can also get a free 1-on-1 consultation and walkthrough to help you decide if it’s a right fit for you.


Twilio is another SMS gateway service that allows you to send text messages via API. Although they have a dashboard to allow you to monitor activity and reporting, this is a tool built for developers to implement and doesn’t have out-of-the-box functionality.

Costs are priced per message rather than through a subscription model.


Lastly, SlickText is an SMS gateway service that offers both an API and a native platform.

It also has most of the key features needed in an SMS service.

Plans are subscription-based and start at $29/month.

How to Use an SMS Gateway

Here’s how you can use an SMS gateway…

Find a Provider

The term “SMS gateway” is typically used in relation to an SMS API, so your first step will be to select an SMS API provider.

If you go the API route, you’ll also need the know-how to implement the instructions in the API documentation.

Set Up Your Systems

Once you have your SMS API / SMS gateway provider selected, you’ll need to set your systems up on your end according to the API documentation given by the provider.

How you set it up will be dependent on how you’d like your processes to work.

For example, you could set it up so that a text message is sent to your user every time they fill out a particular form on your website, or when they place an order, or when they get added into your CRM.

The great thing about API is that you can customize it to however you’d like it to work, so you can seamlessly integrate it in your current workflow.

(Optional) Provide Incentives to Collect Phone Numbers

In many cases you’ll want to provide some kind of incentive that helps make people willing to provide their phone number so that you can text them.

Depending on your situation, this incentive could be something like a discounted or free item, or simply a subscription to a newsletter with useful and relevant content.


After everything’s set up and running, make sure you monitor so that you can: (1) confirm that everything is working as expected and (2) see what kinds of results you’re getting from your SMS setup.

What data should you be looking for as you’re monitoring results?

That really depends on what your goals are.

If your goal is to simply send transactional notifications, delivery rates might be a key metric. If your goal is more promotional, click rates and conversion rates would be more important. (23.3% as mentioned at the beginning of this article may seem like a lofty goal for conversion rates but with SMS it can be doable!) If your goal is to get more engagement, you might want to look at response rates. (Remember that “6–8 times greater response rate than email” stat cited above? You could use that as a target goal for the type of response you want to see for your own SMS.)

You’ll want to decide ahead of time what your goals are and which metrics matter the most to you.

How to Try Out an SMS Gateway for Free

It’s obvious that an SMS gateway can be beneficial for just about every business.

If you’re interested in giving it a try for yourself, you can get a free account pre-loaded with 50 messages to test things out now.

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