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What an SMS Aggregator is and How to Choose One

Most mobile phone users send and receive SMS and MMS messages all day, blissfully unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes to get those plain text and multimedia messages from origin to destination. That’s because in their eyes, sending and receiving messages are one-step processes that happen in a split second. 

And that’s more or less true when one person texts another. What they don’t realize is that when they receive SMS and MMS messages from brands, the important role one or more aggregators play in ensuring that the messages get from the brand to their mobile device quickly and successfully. 

What Is an SMS Aggregator?

An SMS aggregator provides a link between the carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) and any business or application trying to send text messages to the end consumer. Aggregators serve a vital role in the mobile ecosystem to help standardize the way in which businesses and applications communicate with consumers, although, only four companies have direct connection to all major U.S. carriers—Vibes being the only independent one left. 

This year, companies in the U.S. will spend more than $134 million on mobile advertising, an increase from 2020’s investment of about $106 million. As more consumers use smartphones every year, the mobile ad space continues to grow exponentially. For organizations that use mobile advertising, this can translate into more sales and higher profits. 

Nearly every one of those mobile marketing messages will be touched by an aggregator, which not only sets up the relationship between the carrier network and the text messaging software provider but also provides the gateway connection needed to transmit those messages from sender to recipient. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Unlike email, where messages flow through the pipes of an internet network, a mobile device is tied to a single carrier. 


  • When someone sends a message from one person to the next—and even across carriers—the carriers sort out the messages between themselves and forward it to one another.

  • The process works differently for an organization sending out 1 million SMS text messages to current and prospective customers. 

  • That company will work with a third party to send the messages, and an aggregator subsequently steps in to divvy up the messages across different carriers in a logical manner. 

  • Acting as a direct connectivity pipe to those carriers, the aggregator may send a batch of 250,000 messages to four different carriers (e.g., T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Boost Mobile). 

Without an aggregator, the carrier networks would be left to sort out those details on their own across multiple millions of SMS and MMS text messages every day. With the right aggregator in your corner, you can simplify the process of building and maintaining connections with wireless carriers, speed up the campaign onboarding process, and have just one point of contact with your third-party service provider.

Not All Aggregators Are the Same

SMS aggregation has been around for about 25 years, during which time the sector has fragmented into two distinctly different “tiers.” Tier 1 aggregators connect directly to both the top wireless networks and the smaller cellular carriers. This ensures that both SMS and MMS messages take the fastest path from your company to its customers. 

Tier 2 aggregators (aka, “sub-aggregators") do not have direct connections with the carriers and instead work with third parties to send and receive your messages. They only have access to SMS messages, which are sent on their behalf by those third parties. This puts you at least one additional step away from the carriers that are handling your message delivery and you will find yourself paying more for the middleman. 

“There are a lot of players out there right now calling themselves SMS aggregators,” says Robert Charney, Director, Business Operations at Vibes, which is one of just four Tier 1 aggregators. “But any Tier 2 provider probably has to make several ‘hops’ before it can get those to the carrier for distribution.”

By working with a Tier 1 aggregator, you also gain access to:

  • Better connection speeds. Tier 1 aggregators get the highest throughput between the carriers and the messaging providers.    

  • Faster provisioning of your SMS and MMS campaigns. Vibes reviews program briefs quickly and can generally get a campaign provisioned within 4-6 weeks (versus 2-6 months for a Tier 2 aggregator).  

  • A two-way communication stream between the aggregator and carrier. For example, if an aggregator needs the “pipes opened up” for a high volume of messages for a specific campaign, the carrier will do that for them.

  • Proactive technical support. If there’s a technical issue at the carrier level, the Tier 1 aggregator is likely well aware of the problem and able to address it proactively (versus waiting to be alerted to the problem and reacting to it). 

Tier 1 aggregators also handle the submission process for short codes, which allow companies to use the special 5- or 6-digit telephone numbers  for high-throughput, two-way SMS and MMS messaging. Vibes also enforces the short-code compliance regulations set by the CTIA and individual carriers. Without direct connections to the carriers, Tier 2 aggregators can’t handle those intricacies on your behalf.

7 Questions to Ask When Selecting an SMS Aggregator

Before selecting your SMS and/or MMS aggregator, ask your prospective partner these questions:

  1. Are you directly connected to carriers and do you have relationships with the Big 3 carriers (T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon)? If the answer is no, you’re probably talking to a Tier 2 aggregator. 

  1. Can I speak with a few of your existing customers? During the conversations, be sure to ask how long provisioning took and what their biggest pain points were. Any extended timelines for the review of program briefs, feedback and/or provisioning may be potential red flags.

  1. What is your general response time for service? Ideally, your aggregator should send you a quick response (i.e., “We received your request and we’re looking into it”) within an hour or two of submitting the ticket. Resolutions will vary based on the problem, but your aggregator should at least send that initial response quickly and then follow up with updates as they become available. 

  1. How does your ticketing, incident management, and maintenance notification process work? When you open up a ticket with Vibes, there’s always going to be a real “person” there to talk to and interact with. If the aggregator you’re interviewing uses an automated system for these interactions, it may be another potential red flag.

  1. What’s your compliance and provisioning teams’ level of experience? You’ll ideally want to work with someone who has years of experience in the field, and that didn’t just start working for the company yesterday. 

  1. What’s the average tenure of the team that’s managing carrier relationships? Again, look for a company whose carrier management team has an average tenure of at least 5-10 years. 

  1. Can I speak with the person who handles short-code provisioning? If you’re going to be using short codes, talking to this person will help you gain a better understanding of their experience and how the process works. 

Once you have the answers to your questions, you’ll have a good idea of exactly what type of aggregator you’re talking to, how it operates and what its strong and weak points are. Use the information to compare features and services across multiple aggregators before making your final selection.

The Bottom Line

Aggregators play a vital role in getting SMS and MMS messages from businesses to the carriers and to the end consumer, but not all aggregators are the same. Tier 1 aggregators are the only ones who have direct carrier connections and as a result offer better delivery speed, faster provisioning, and reliable technical support. To ensure aggregators are who they say they are, make sure to drill down on their experience level and ask about their relationships with carriers before routing any messages through them.

Using low-code application programming interfaces (APIs), Vibes makes it easy to set up and start sending SMS and MMS text campaigns. With our average 3 day connection setup, you can be sending texts through our high-performance network in no time and at a price that's hard to beat.

Connect with Vibes today to learn more about bulk SMS messaging and tier 1 connectivity.