OMG! H-BDAY Txt Msgs: SMS Turns 20

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Posted 5 years ago

Today, the 3rd of December 2012, marks the 20th birthday of the text message. The humble service that has saved lives, brought down regimes, and put a knife in the spine of grammar, totally transformed the way in which we communicate with each other in 1992, when a 22-year old British engineer named Neil Papworth used his computer to send the words “Merry Christmas” from his PC to the Vodafone cell of Richard Jarvis. Today, in excess of 7 trillion text messages are sent every year, and as MacWorld points out, that’s more than 200,000 per second!

The origins of text messaging can be traced back to 1984 and the Danish city of Copenhagen, when Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen attended a conference where he discussed the idea of texting on a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) system. The idea, and the subsequent creation of SMS, has earned Makkonen the nickname “Godfather of Text”.

SMS first began on pagers in the early nineties and then progressed to cellular phones, where it became, and remains, the most popular form of communication. Text messages were originally free, until Vodafone – one of only two networks in the UK at the time – decided that with the launch of the Tegic (T9) system, and the creation of predictive text, a share price alert system would be created.

Today, according to statistics by mobiThinking, the mobile messaging market in 2011 was worth a whopping US$202 billion. Many analysts believe that SMS has passed its peak and that the rise of IM clients such as Facebook Message, BBM and WhatsApp, and sites such as Twitter, will see SMS decline. However, the mobiThinking data predicts that this will not be the case, with SMS traffic expected to reach 9.6 trillion by the end of this year, and revenue to reach $310.2 billion by 2016.

Smartphones and video chats may surpass SMS eventually, but for now good old text is still the king. Happy Birthday!

– Anthony Carter

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