Happy bday! SMS txt msgs turn 20
Short message service, or SMS as we better know it, just turned 20! With a simple “Merry Christmas” sent on 3 December 1992, software programmer Neil Papworth had no idea he had just sparked a communications revolution.
The concept of SMS was developed in the Eighties by the Franco-German GSM co-operation, and Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert are credited with coming up with a way to transmit a 128-byte text message using the mobile phone signalling format.
Papworth was the first to send a message using SMS, though. At the time, he was working for a technology company that was developing a Short Messaging Service Centre for Vodafone UK that would be used as an in-company paging service. He sent the Christmas greeting from a PC – as mobile phones only had numerical keypads back then – to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone owned by Vodafone’s then-technical director Richard Jarvis.
A look at the 2.1kg ‘portable’ phone that received the world’s first-ever text message is enough to see how much things have changed in the 20 years since.
It was in the late Nineties, when text messaging was enabled across different networks, that SMS really took off as a form of communication. Particularly popular among young people, the 160-character limit imposed in the early years of the service spawned a new language of abbreviations, sparking fears that ‘text speak’ would make future generations illiterate.
Nowadays, SMS is not only widely used for communication, it’s also used to provide a multitude of services, such as mobile banking, alerts, flight information, pay as you go top-ups, voting, competitions and charitable donations.
Globally, 8 tillion texts were sent in 2011, according to figures reported by The Observer, equating to about 15 million texts per minute.
Papworth celebrated the anniversary with a text sent to the Observer: “IMHO, SMS is still the GR8ST :-)”