It’s truly ironic that 25 years ago Neil Papworth sent the first SMS, on December 3rd, 1992 over the Vodafone UK cellular network to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis; with the words “Merry Christmas”. Papworth was able to create history and allow us to celebrate SMS in all its crowned glory, 25 years later. What started as an inquisitive implementation of existing cellular standards eventually grew into a huge part of our daily communication.
According to Papworth, he had to use a computer to compose the message because no phones at the time had the necessary keypad elements to input that much text. Fast forward 25 years and it has become a staple communication medium that has been the platform for digital communication and some would say its the Mother that gave birth to instant messaging and social media services.
At that time, SMS (Short Message Service) did not support very many characters in the grand scheme of things. The roots of SMS go back to the earliest stages of mobile technology in the mid-1980s. The GSM standards supported the transmission of up to 160 characters and T9 and other predictive systems didn’t exist before 1995. SMS was later ported to other network technologies like CDMA and AMPS. Additionally, SMS was free and could only be sent to people on the same network.
SMS took off in some markets in the mid-to-late 1990s, as devices with T9 input and QWERTY keyboards started appearing on the market. SMS slowly gained ground in the US through the early 2000s until the first modern smartphones appeared in 2007. US wireless customers sent some 12.5 billion SMS per month in 2006. By the following year, that number had skyrocketed to 45 billion. As of June 2017, US mobile users are sending about 781 billion SMS each month.
As smartphones become a regular part of everyone’s life, other forms of messaging have imposed upon the dominance of SMS. Messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have supplanted SMS in many markets. WhatsApp alone was delivering 55 billion messages every day as of last summer. Although these other forms of messaging have made a dent in the number of people sending texts worldwide, there are still places where SMS is the default messaging tool.
There is an entire ecosystem of software built around the unassuming SMS, ranging from marketing tools to banking and project management and the list goes on.
During the early days SMS was primarily utilised as a person-to-person platform, however, businesses quickly saw the magic power of SMS as a highly effective means of communicating with their customers. With its matchless open rate of 98%, it’s no surprise businesses have capitalised on SMS and is now widely employed by businesses for everything from special offers, news announcements, appointment reminders, alerts, to two-factor authentication and one-time passwords.
Although security experts are increasingly warning against SMS as a method of delivering to factor authentication (2FA), it has not impacted on its popularity and or use my Facebook, Twitter or Google.
We live in what is the greatest era yet for mobile innovation and the generation of consumers, who are growing up in the mobile-first always-connected environment. The continuous improvements and growth of SMS will drive the pace of change even faster. It’s hard to forecast a time when SMS sharing most of its attributes – a global real-time messaging system joined to every user’s mobile identity – won’t have an important place in the market, and undeniably in our pockets.
It’s been 25 years and SMS has become a communal communication tool for people of all ages, worldwide to interact with friends, family and even foes. SMS has changed the way we interact on a daily basis with the world around us, with over 22 billion text messages sent worldwide every single day. With such statistics and longevity behind it, SMS is here to stay and hold the title of being one of our greatest communication tools ever created.