Tag Archives: SMS

Texting May Work When Everything Else Fails

Our recent experience with hurricane Irma confirms the wisdom of not putting all of your communication eggs in one basket. The storm interrupted communications for hours and days. Immediately afterward, my phone had a good wireless RF connection to T-Mobile’s cell site, but no IP (Internet Protocol) connection. Text messaging using SMS (Short Message Service) worked fine. (SMS is a telephone — not Internet — protocol. It uses the telephone industry’s venerable Signaling System 7 to transport its messages.)

On the other hand, messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and SnapChat rely upon IP to transport their messages. Without an IP connection, these messaging apps wouldn’t have worked. The plain Jane texting program that’s built into my Android 5 phone doesn’t need IP. SMS originally used GSM for message transport. Now it also uses LTE, CDMA, etc.

T-Mobile provided SMS and voice calling service for days after the storm, before they restored my IP connectivity. They said that about 700 cell sites in Dade and Broward counties had been degraded by hurricane Irma. 

Caveat: SMS isn’t secure, as its transport mechanism, Signaling System 7, lacks an authentication protocol. 

Google SMS Search has broken again.

Google SMS Search
logo: google
My guess is that Google programmers are working on SMS Search.


Google’s SMS Search service resumed working for a couple days, only to stop working again. The lack of an SLA (Service Level Agreement) from Google reminds us that building a mission-critical commercial operation on Google’s free services isn’t the way to go.

I miss its quick weather updates.

Whew! Google SMS Search resumes working.

Google SMS Search
logo: Google
The recent outage of Google SMS Search reminded me that Google giveth and Google may taketh away.

Google introduced their SMS Search service in 2008. I wrote an article about it (Receive answers from Google on your cell phone.) shortly afterward and have been using it since then on my dumbphone (a T-Mobile Samsung T-439 cell phone). It’s wonderful for checking weather, looking up addresses and phone numbers, etc.

A couple weeks ago, it suddenly stopped working. Google SMS replied “Sorry, “______” does not return any results.” Yesterday morning, it resumed working, with no indication of why it broke.

Many Google services are great when they work. Their free-of-cost nature, though, means that Google makes no commitment to service level.


Public telephone uganda
An MTN-operated, GSM-based public phone
(also known as “mobile telephone booth”) in Uganda.
Photo: Moongateclimber
In areas with cellular phone service but no Internet service, join people together with text messaging.

Millions of people are still years and miles away from connecting to the Internet. Traditionally, Internet service to the public has been built upon either a foundation of PSTN (public switched telephone network) that’s been in place in the developed world for more than a century, or a newer cable TV infrastructure. How can people without these infrastructures exchange information quickly?

In undeveloped areas, neither POTS (plain old telephone service) nor cable TV service is available. At one time, expensive private radio networks were the only way to communicate in real time. More recently, cellular phone service has become available as quickly as the cell towers can be built. Many undeveloped countries are skipping the stringing of telephone cables and are connecting via cellular phones.

FrontlineSMS allows anyone with a cellphone and a computer (which does not need to be connected to the Internet) to create a community of cell phone users, in order to provide them with text data (“the market price for maize rose 2 cents yesterday“) and to collect data from the cell phone users (“we have 6 patients with malaria“).

Click to expand.
Illustration: FrontlineSMS

FrontlineSMS can improve medical care

I’m impressed with what I see of FrontlineSMS Medic’s beta test version of PatientView software. It should help deliver medical care to people in undeveloped and disaster-stricken areas by receiving, collating, communicating one-to-one, and broadcasting medical data via SMS (“text messaging”). Like FrontlineSMS, it’s open source software. PatientView is part of Medic Mobile, an effort to improve health care in less developed areas.

Once the users’ SMS (Short Message Service) text messages are collected by the FrontlineSMS “hub”, its staff can take action to assist the community. Ken Banks, FrontlineSMS’ creator, explains it in this 2 minute video:

Link to video: An introduction to FrontlineSMS.

I like what I see of FrontlineSMS: a simple solution that’s appropriate to its environment.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

French chess grandmaster used computer and SMS to cheat in tournament

Moves suggested by computer were telegraphed to player by cell phone text messages and body position of colleague.

www.chessvibes.comThe French chess team has suspended three of its members for 5 years, following an investigation that revealed that they had cheated at a major chess tournament that was held in Siberia last September. The cheating scheme used one guy who, from his home in France, followed the moves via the Internet. He submitted each position to “a powerful chess program” (I have no idea which one), and he would send the move that was suggested by the chess program via SMS (text message) to a third guy who was at the tournament. The third guy would then place himself in the tournament room in accordance with an agreed upon code. The player learned the suggested move by watching the third guy’s movements in the room.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph reports the story. The chess world is abuzz with questions, since the accused are merely suspected of cheating, yet have been suspended: http://www.chessvibes.com.

Confession: Years ago, I read monthly magazine columns about computer chess. Unfortunately, although I like chess, I’m a poor chess player. Peter Jennings’ Microchess program, running on my wimpy little 1 MHz 8-bit, 8 kilobyte RAM Commodore PET 2001, c 1978, regularly defeated me.


Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Apple releases update to fix iPhone vulnerability

iPhone software update
Apple quickly patches iPhone.
One day after the SMS vulnerability was made public, Apple claims to have patched the iPhone operating system. They plan to have the patched version, 3.0.1, available today (Saturday, 1 August) via iTunes. If you own an iPhone, download and install this version as soon as possible. Read more:
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com

iPhone attack via text message disclosed

Article about iPhone SMS hackiPhone’s vulnerability to SMS attack revealed.

Charlie Miller revealed an attack on Apple iPhones that is launched simply by sending an iPhone a text message. (Also called SMS message.)
Mr. Miller is discussing this vulnerability at the ongoing annual Defcon / Black Hat conference in Las Vegas. He claims that possible damage ranges from a simple crash, through hijacking of all phone functions, to broadcast of the malicious text to all numbers in the iPhone’s contacts list. (It sounds like another buffer overrun vulnerability: the device gags as it tries to process more data than it can handle, and sends the CPU’s instruction pointer to an undefined address in memory . . . where apparently malicious code awaits.)
Mr. Miller notified Apple of the vulnerability, and Apple is presumed to be working on a patch. Supposedly they’ve known of the vulnerability for weeks, yet they’ve made no official statement on this topic.
In the meantime, iPhone users are urged to look for text messages that end with a single square character: if an iPhone user receives such a mesage, he/she is urged to immediately turn off the iPhone. (If it were me, I’d remove the battery . . . oops! You can’t, on an iPhone.)

Receive answers from Google on your cell phone.

I use this to obtain weather, addresses, phone numbers, and driving directions.

 This is a variation of Homer Simpson’s surprised exclamation, "Oh, They Have the Internet on Computers Now!" Google is pushing information from the Internet unto cell phones — even simple cell phones.

Google has entered the mobile market with a variety of products, including their free SMS (Short Message Service — "text messaging" to you and me) service.

Most cell phones include text messaging at little or no extra cost; here’s a way to receive useful information on your plain Jane cellphone even if it can’t directly access the Internet. Google charges nothing for the service; your cell carrier may or may not charge you for each message.

I use Google SMS to receive driving directions, estimated drive times, weather forecasts, business addresses and phone numbers. Sports fans can receive the latest scores. It can quote stock prices, and estimated flight arrival times. I find that it replies to my queries within 10 seconds or so. 

Here is Google SMS’s response to my query, "33302 to tamarac, fl":
Distance: 16 mi (about 27 mins) 8 steps.
1. Head north on S Andrews Ave toward W Broward Blvd (0.1)
2. Turn left at W Broward Blvd (1.5)
. . . etc.