USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Services Data)

USSD (unstructured supplementary services data) is an alternative messaging system to SMS (short message service) and is available on most GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks. Unlike SMS, USSD is a protocol that allows for a query-and-response type of action between the customer and a service center, where these transactions can be seen to be similar to a session on a Web site. USSD services are usually initiated by the user who enters a code on his phone and then sends that as a request to the network. The code differs from the number an SMS is sent to because it includes the symbols # and *. For example, *100# can be used to check the balance of a prepaid service on some networks. These services are often used by networks to provide a service to a customer, such as requesting balance information, adding credit to a prepaid contract, or passing on credit to another mobile phone user. A popular service is a “call back” functionality, where a mobile phone user sends a request by USSD for another user to phone him. The requested number receives an SMS informing her of the request. Often, this SMS message also includes an advertising message.
A USSD query often initiates a session where the response from the service includes a simple text menu with further options or a response with instructions for the user. Users need to respond within a limited time frame, usually thirty seconds but up to two minutes, in order to maintain the session. If the session is not maintained, the user will need to initiate the service again. Users can select menu options by returning a message with the number of the appropriate menu selection. This continues until the appropriate content has been displayed. It is a rudimentary navigation, but with far faster response times and lower costs when compared to SMS or to mobile browsing.

USSD and Marketing

USSD is being used as a payment application, turning the mobile phone into a virtual wallet. USSD is exceptionally useful as self-service customer service and is attractive to customers when it is offered for free. Advertising can easily be displayed in the messages returned when using this service.

Voting, such as for a reality television program, and entering of competitions can all be handled through USSD. USSD services allow greater flexibility than SMS services as they allow a query-and-response type of interaction as opposed to a single message to perform these tasks. This allows the marketer to request additional information from consumers using these services.

USSD can be used to provide information to, and collect information from, customers and potential customers. However, from a marketing and advertising perspective, its adoption has not been as great as that of SMS. While USSD services are more cost effective than SMS services and can allow for more detailed data to be collected, SMS services are often preferred by the customer. SMS common short codes (CSCs) are easier to remember than USSD codes, and the concept of sending a text message is more familiar to the customer.


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