What are a company’s most valuable assets? Most will say: “our customers and their contact details”. They’re right. After all, what good is a great idea, product or team if you don’t have paying customers?
But managing a person’s contact information is no easy task. For a start, information is not one thing, it’s several: postal address, email, phone number, instant messenger ID. Maybe even a fax number.
Sales and marketing teams normally store these contact details in a CRM (customer relationship management) product. This helps them manage the information more efficiently. But it doesn’t solve another big challenge with contact data: ‘ageing’.
Over time, information degrades. Customers move house or change their emails or switch phone providers. Unless this data is regularly updated, companies will waste money by sending messages to outdated contacts. In fact, some GTC customers say ageing data can mean only 60% of campaigns reach their intended recipients.
Introducing number lookup services
Happily, there are services that can help. Specialist companies now offer tools to help verify emails, postal addresses and – yes – mobile numbers. But these tools are varied. Not every service is relevant for everyone. Let’s have a quick look:
● Number range services
Services that identify clearly invalid numbers based on numbering plan information (E.164 prefixes) and show which operator and country a number range belongs to. Numbers from non-existent ranges or with incorrect lengths can be easily identified. An alternative approach could be to include the libphonenumber library into the code of the application.
● Mobile number portability services
In more than 100 countries phone numbers can be moved between operators within the country. This is called mobile number portability (MNP). These services reveal which operator the number currently belongs to. Similar services exist for landline/fixed line numbers too. This is called LNP (local or landline number portability).
● Validation services
These services show whether a number is assigned. Usually, the MNP information is also included.
● Location services
These services can reveal the location of a mobile device. However, at GTC we do not recommend using them. They can conflict with data privacy laws – and even be comparable to illegal SMS phishing (smishing).
Which type of lookup solution is for you?
So, if there are three types of relevant lookups, which ones should you use? Well, it really depends on your specific business or use cases. For example…
You use customer contacts for your own marketing or customer care purposes. Outdated numbers make many recipients unreachable, which wastes your budget. Using a number range service will help you filter out clearly invalid numbers. Meanwhile, regularly running your contact database against a number validation service will allow you to identify numbers that became invalid.
● SMS and voice aggregator
You don’t initiate SMS or voice calls yourself. Instead, you send them on behalf of your customer base. Your task is to route them as efficiently as possible – in terms of quality and cost. Mobile number portability is your main interest. Why? Because it will help you route traffic accurately, charge your customer correctly and – in so doing – avoid billing disputes. Number validation is useful too. It will help you avoid paying suppliers for undeliverable messages. Additionally, you might decide to outsource the management of your own E.164 phone prefix database and therefore also use number range services wherever MNP has not been introduced yet.
Cross-checking to prevent signs of ageing
Whatever your use case is, you are now equipped to tackle the problem. So, what’s the best way to do it? One approach could be to cross-check your number database with a number validity service, remove all numbers flagged as invalid and contact the customer with another channel to update your CRM.
Regular cross-checking will improve the quality of your number database and make future customer interactions more successful and cost-effective. To find out how much-outdated contact data affects you, ask your marketing or customer care teams how they maintain the data. Also ask them how successful recent campaigns have been, especially towards mobile numbers.
A guide to different number lookup providers
OK, so we have established the different types of number lookups, where they might apply and how to update your databases. Now, let’s explore which types of companies offer them and what differentiates their offerings.
● National MNP database companies
These companies administer the MNP database in a specific country. In some regions, the national databases can also access other entities besides MNOs. They provide direct access to the data but usually only for one country.
● Lookup service providers
These companies have built a professional business around several different information services and often also act as national MNP databases in some countries. They offer a variety of services as described above and usually have global coverage.
● SMS aggregators
As explained above, SMS aggregators need strong number validation and lookup data to keep their businesses successful. For this reason, many perform HLR lookups via SS7 themselves. And some have taken this a step further, productising their own lookup infrastructures (mainly MNP) as services. Coverage is usually global, same as their SMS businesses.
So what should you do? Obviously, it depends on the footprint of your business and your home country, but in most cases, we’d recommend connecting to a supplier with global coverage. It’s up to you to decide whether your supplier is a lookup specialist or also offers other services. Either way, make sure the service is high quality and does what you want it to do.
How do different lookup services work in terms of technology?
In short: all services are accessible via similar interfaces on protocols such REST/HTTP or ENUM, and sometimes also SIP. Which information is part of the response seriously depends on the type of service and interface in question, for sure MCC MNC (E.212, also known as IMSI prefixes) are returned. But let’s have a closer look at used data sources though:
● Number range
Typically, the service provider gives access to its own E.164 prefix database. This information is the basis for their successful lookup service business and response times are very fast.
● Mobile number portability
The service provider’s backend will typically hold a combination of in-house databases, external lookups (to the national MNP databases) or HLR lookups via SS7, the source used depends on the country. Response times are usually quite fast but really depends on the source used.
● Number validation
Here, providers use SS7 lookups of an MNO’s internal ‘phonebook’ – the HLR (home location register). Due to the nature of SS7 signalling and signal runtimes, number validation services respond slower than NRH (number range holder) or MNP services.
Conclusion: focus on your needs before you make your decision
As you can see, some number lookup services – and providers – are more appropriate to specific use cases than others. You should also be aware that pricing models can differ quite sharply across countries and suppliers.
Our main advice is to think about what you want to achieve first, then pick the service type and lookup supplier that fits your needs best. If you’re unsure or overwhelmed, feel free to contact us and we’ll help you to navigate through this topic. The same applies if you want to know more about SS7 or details about the technical interfaces related to lookup services.
Global Telco Consult (GTC) is a trusted independent business messaging consultancy with deep domain knowledge in application-to-person (A2P) services. GTC provides tailor-made messaging strategies to enterprises, messaging service providers, operators and voice carriers. We have expertise in multiple messaging channels such as RCS, Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram and SMS for the wholesale and retail industry.
GTC supports its customers from market strategy through service launch, running the operations and supporting sales and procurement. The company started in 2016 with a mission to guide operators and telcos to embrace new and exciting opportunities and make the most out of business messaging. For more information or industry insights, browse through our blog page or follow us on LinkedIn.