SMS celebrates 20 years
Mobile phone text messaging celebrated its twentieth birthday this month making it older than the average student. The very first message, sent on 3rd December 1992, simply read "Merry Christmas".
The Short Message Service (SMS), or as it is more commonly known, texting, had its origins back in 1985 as a standard for GSM and is said to have been devised over a pizza in Copenhagen. It wasn't until late in 1992 that engineer Neil Papworth sitting in the Vodafone office in Berkshire sent the first message across the phone network to colleague Richard Jarvis. The service became available to members of the public over the next few years and in those early days, the text message was seen as a way to wean users off pagers and onto mobile phones. It took until 1999 for the various mobile operators to interconnect their messaging systems meaning it became possible to text anyone with a mobile on any network and which lead to the massive rise in texting.
One might ask why short messages are so short? It is often claimed that an analysis of postcards revealed that most postcard messages were 150 characters or less. However, I suspect that was an after-the-fact explanation. SMS was designed for the GSM service and utilises the existing paths used to control telephone traffic, The messages had to be short enough to fit into the GSM control packets. As it does not depend on real-time end-to-end linkage, it was possible to send the messages over the network using the spare capacity in the system and it meant that an operator could add SMS support to their service at virtually no extra cost. It needed no extra hardware. All it required was an update to the GSM software.
An indication of how popular texting has become is indicated by the number of countries which have had to pass legislation prohibiting texting whilst driving. The Virginia Technology Transport Institute has calculated that reading the average text message distracts a driver for 4.6 seconds, which is about 150 yards at motorway speeds. On the lighter side, the Guinness Book of Records lists Melissa Thompson as the world record competitive speed texter, having taken a fraction less than 26 seconds to accurately enter the message "The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human."
Predictive text messaging, invented as long ago as 1995, has been responsible for howlers over the years and the addition of autocorrect on "smart" phones just seems to make matters worse. Some messages which were not too rude to print include:
Sometimes I wish I could eat children
Correction: I wish I could eat chicken
Great news, grandma is homosexual
Correction: grandma is home from hospital
Screw the gym, I'm getting pregnant tonight
Correction: I'm getting Pringles tonight
I bought some slaves at IKEA today
Correction: Shelves, SHELVES!
In 2010 there were 6 trillion text messages sent worldwide, and 8 trillion in 2011. The final figure for 2012 is sure to be a new record and SMS is expected to net $150 billion for the operators and service industry in 2013, but it could also be the SMS zenith as other technologies such as email, Facebook, and Twitter take over. Twitter's 140 character limit on tweets was originally chosen so users could tweet via text messages, but as more phone users get smart phones with internet connectivity, there is less and less need to use plain old texting.
17th December 2012
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