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Koha Coming Attractions - Send SMS messages for free!

Very recently bug 9021 was added to the Koha community code base, and will be in Koha 3.24! What does this mean for you?

Perhaps you’ve wanted to give your patrons the ability to receive alerts via SMS text messages to their cell phones, but haven’t because of cost, the need for dealing with a third party, or other concerns. With the addition of SMS via email you can have your cake and eat it too!

Traditionally to get SMS support in Koha you would need to sign up with an SMS gateway service and configure an SMS driver in Koha to use that service. However, there is a simpler way to send a text message to a patron; by email. Most cellular providers give their customers the ability to receive text messages via email. For example, if the patron has the phone number 1234567890 and is a T-Mobile customer, you could send an email to 1234567890@tmomail.com and the patron would receive the email as a text message.

To harness this ability, we have to overcome two obstacles,

  1. How do we know what the email address is for a given service?
  2. How do we know what service a patron is using?

Unfortunately, there are no free automated solutions to these problems.

The first one is fairly simple. It is very easy to find the email gateways for all the major cellular providers in the area. A quick google search for “<provider> sms email” usually gives you the answer in just a few clicks.

The second issue requires that we simply need to get the patron to tell us his or her provider in order to use the system. Since the patron already has to fill in a specific field with the phone number they want to receive the texts, it is not all that onerous to also have patrons give their provider at that time.

So, let’s assume you’ve been upgraded to Koha 3.23. How do we go about setting this up?

First, we need to enable the feature by setting the value of SMSSendDriver to ‘Email’.

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Once we’ve done that, a new option “SMS cellular providers” will show up in the administration area of Koha.
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Clicking this link will take you into the cellular providers editor. From here you can add, edit and delete providers your patrons use. This page will also tell you how many patrons are set up to use each given provider.

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Once you have your providers set up, you can now assign an SMS number and provider to a patron, or let them do it from the OPAC.

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That’s it! Your patron should now receive SMS messages without the need to pay for an SMS gateway service!

Now, we know the benefits of this feature ( i.e. there is no cost to use it ), but there is also a caveat. Once the email gets sent to the service provider, we have no control over how long it will actually take for the patron to receive the message. However, considering the cost savings, I believe the pros outweigh the cons.

Update: Nicole Engard found a great list of Email to SMS gateway services!

Read more by Kyle Hall

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