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The rise and fall of SMS

by savannah
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SMS or short message service marked a pivotal change in mobile communications. Prior to SMS, the mobile phone was exactly what it sounds like, a phone that could be taken anywhere. The introduction of the SMS meant that there was now increased functionality on a mobile device compared to a fixed device and that the two devices were starting to follow different paths. 

The first SMS was sent in 1992 on December 3rd. A test engineer named Neil Papworth sent the message “Merry Christmas” over the Vodafone network to Richard Jarvis. This was a remarkable occasion and even such a short message revealed so much of the mobile communications era. The idea of shortening the message never occurred to Papworth. If Papworth was sending the same message ten years later it likely would have been “Merry Xmas!”, five years after that it would probably be the same Xmas but with a few emojis added in. If it was today, Jarvis would likely just receive a gif or meme!

1992 was the birth of SMS but it was not an instant success. Few people embraced SMS with only 0.4 messages being sent per person every day in 1995. This was largely due to the pricing by mobile providers. It was still much cheaper to give someone a quick phone call. As the pricing changed and bundles were introduced that included free messaging, SMS took off.

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SMS has certainly peaked since then. In many developing countries WhatsApp has totally replaced traditional texting. In more developed countries it is still used but is in strong decline. The rise of data now means that more and more messages are migrating to app services such as WhatsApp. Today there are over 70 billion text messages sent every day on the WhatsApp application alone.

When was the last time you sent a traditional SMS? Today the majority of the SMS messages I receive are promotions or from my mobile provider. Everyone knows the best way to contact me is through Facebook messenger or WhatsApp. Has the sunset of SMS arrived, is it becoming like the traditional home phone or has it still got some life left? Tell us your thoughts.

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