Archive for February, 2012

Bobsled: It Could Have Been Awesome

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

I’ve been a happy customer of T-Mobile for over a dozen years now, well before they were called T-Mobile. I’m writing this blog post because what I want to point out is a little too long for a tweet, and because I’m dying to hear from the ‘powers that be’ at Bobsled regarding their design decisions. I’m a huge fan of T-Mobile, and I want to see them succeed.

When I logged in to check on my usage today, I saw a reference to a service called Bobsled by T-Mobile. It seems to be divided into two separate pieces: “Calling” and “Messaging”. The voice stuff didn’t interest me, as I’m already a very happy user of Google Voice, but the Messaging product claims to synchronize SMS conversations across devices. That sounded really, really awesome. I usually carry two phones when I travel, and I travel quite often. It also claims to offer a Group SMS feature that really works — that is, any participant can ‘Reply to All’ and everyone else will successfully receive the responses.

So, I downloaded the Bobsled Messaging app, and patiently let it do its syncing thing. I then logged into their Bobsled web interface, and all of my SMS conversations showed up. So far so good. I sent a test SMS message from the web interface to a friend of mine, and he got it. Great.

Finally, I turned my phone off, sent a test SMS message to myself using Google Voice, and waited for it to show up on the Bobsled web interface. No bueno. It never arrived. As it turns out, your cell phone has to be turned on and have cell signal in order for Bobsled to function and be aware of new text messages. This seems really odd, given that T-Mobile is my carrier, and Bobsled is a service created and operated by T-Mobile.

In order words, this is how Bobsled works:
1) An SMS is sent to my cell phone number
2) T-Mobile receives the SMS on my behalf, since they are my carrier, and routes the SMS to my cell phone, wherever it is on the network.
3) If my cell phone is turned on and has service, the Bobsled app on my phone then forwards the SMS *back to T-Mobile* to be included in their Bobsled platform.

WTF?

This is how Bobsled could and should work:
1) An SMS is sent to my cell phone number
2) T-Mobile receives the SMS, copies it to their Bobsled platform, and routes a copy to my cell phone.

In the latter scenario, my cell phone would not have to be turned on in order for Bobsled to work properly. So, when I’m out of the country, I’d still be able to send and respond to SMS messages sent to my primary phone. That would be INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

But, alas, that’s not how the Bobsled system was designed and built. Instead, T-Mobile must first tell my cell phone about text messages and wait for my cell phone to tell T-Mobile what they should already know. It’s inefficient and silly, but it also prevents functionality that would be a true game changer in the mobile communications industry.

So, my question for T-Mobile is “Why?”

T-Mobile, as a carrier, is in a unique position to offer this kind of functionality, unlike Google. If T-Mobile were so inclined, they could easily create a Google Voice Killer. Think about it. Today, Google Voice can receive SMS message regardless of whether your phone is on, off, in, or out of service. That’s great, but it’s annoying not being able to use your primary number, and its frustrating trying to get other people to text you on the right number at the right times. (ie, When I’m stateside, call me at this number but text me at this number. When I’m out of the country, call me here and text me here.) With Bobsled, I can use my primary T-Mobile number for all my texting — even online — but my cell phone must always be turned on, have signal, and contain my T-Mobile SIM.

If T-Mobile would just copy my inbound SMS messages to their Bobsled platform, without relaying them through my phone, it would be over for Google Voice, at least for myself and hundreds of thousands of other people. I’m not saying that everyone would immediately switch, but I’m confident that this functionality would eventually cause hundreds of thousands of people to switch to T-Mobile from other carriers. I know I’m not the only one who travels, and I know I’m not the only one who avoids using Google Voice for SMS because of the confusion that two phone numbers causes.

I’m tweeting a link to this post to several Bobsled staffers. I would be thrilled to hear their thoughts.