Insight

Then and now: SMS turns 22

In its 22 years of existence, SMS has undergone major changes and has evolved into a major security and communications solution for enterprises.

December 03 2014

It's been 22 years to the day since the first ever SMS message was sent. With its simple “Merry Christmas”, Neil Papworth's text to Vodafone's Richard Jarvis in many ways illustrates what SMS is all about – personal, convenient, flexible enough to be sent from computers and received on mobile phones. Yes, the first SMS ever sent was an application-to-person (A2P) SMS.

Back then, most handsets weren't even able to send SMS, Nokia being the first manufacturer to support the mobile-originated service in 1993. That year, Finland's Radiolinja (now part of Elisa telecom) started offering a person-to-person text messaging service to consumers, but this wasn't where the commercialisation started. The initial growth was slow, with customers in 1995 sending on average only 0.4 messages per GSM customer per month, as the operators themselves needed time to recognise the potential of P2P SMS. Once they seriously started improving user experience, the service took off and commercialisation began.

The infrastructure behind today's global A2P SMS messaging systems

Mobile subscribers around the world started communicating over SMS. From making simple arrangements to happy birthday wishes, people were using SMS in situations where calls weren't the best option. It turns out, that was quite often. In December 2000, UK mobile users sent 756 M SMS messages, while on Christmas day 2006 alone, UK users sent over 205 million messages. By 2013, global SMS traffic exceeded 7 trillion and generated over $120 billion gross revenue

Global adoption of smartphones and unstoppable growth of mobile Internet accessibility is driving the uptake of OTT messaging apps as the go-to texting channel, causing P2P SMS messaging to start showing signs of decline. However, SMS is taking an increasingly important role in enterprise communications and security systems worldwide, thanks to the technical advancements in A2P messaging.

Variants of application-to-person SMS sent from apps to consumers and clients bring a new value to the mobile ecosystem, resulting in fresh revenue for operators and businesses. Seamless API integration, along with deeply integrated in-house solutions and web-based interfaces, enabled businesses to tap into the vast consumer market. Cloud solutions offering complete support, excellent terms and global coverage helped operators to monetise their SMS resources in a new way, creating a new generation of client-oriented communications.

Fully-automated, real-time notifications that are opened within four minutes 90% of the time, along with the ability to send them to large client bases, made a huge difference for businesses. A service not depending on Internet availability practically guarantees delivery and this is precisely why companies like WhatsApp, Viber, Twitter, Facebook, and Google turned to A2P SMS for user verification.

The mobile ecosystem has changed immensely since that day in December 1992, and SMS has changed and evolved with it. It has made a tremendous impact on people's lives, it has brought a mobile dimension to businesses and changed the way we see customer communication. It has the respect of developers behind the apps that were supposed to replace it – but couldn't and never will.

Twenty-two years later, SMS is still evolving and powering the mobile ecosystem. Even Neil Papworth probably couldn't see that coming. So here's a short text for our guest of honour – Happy birthday SMS, you've certainly earned the right to party.