First Text Message Sent 20 Years Ago Today
December 3, 2012

First Text Message Sent 20 Years Ago Today

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Were the SMS a human person, it should be somewhere in the middle of its collegiate experience, full of wide-eyed optimism about its future. It would think back to when it was 17 and 18 anytime it told stories about “when it was a kid.” Given its enormous popularity, it would probably be known for its wild parties where everyone who´s anyone would want to be seen.

Sadly for ol´ SMS, it exists in the tech world, meaning 20 years is closer to ancient than it is adolescence. While the text message is still widely used, (the average American sends nearly 700 texts a month) there´s some mounting evidence which suggests all the cool kids have switched to other ways to send short bursts of communication. Adding a bit of insult to injury, it´s the very device which helped SMS become so popular – the smartphone – which could one day be responsible for killing the text message.

On December 3, 1992, Neil Papworth sent the world´s first text message, “Merry Christmas,” to Vodafone´s Richard Jarvis´ cell phone.

It wasn´t until Nokia launched a phone capable of sending and receiving texts in 1993 that the SMS began to take off.

In an interview with ClickSumo, Papworth has said he´s surprised with how popular this communication system has become.

“I believe that it was also meant to be used by 'executive assistants” to send messages to their bosses etc. But I don´t think it was thought of to become so widespread as it is today,” said Papworth.

In the early days, text messages were sent and received free of charge. On the other hand, these messages could only be sent between 2 people on the same network. In 1994, Vodafone launched a system where text alerts could be sent to customers on different networks. Text messaging soon became so popular, carriers realized the earning potential and began charging on a per-text basis.

The average text weighs in at about 128 bytes worth of data. The average cost per text message has been around 10 cents. At a 10 cent-per 128 byte rate, a CD would cost more than $96,000. Luckily, carriers have been packaging unlimited data in their plans for many years now.

Today, the text message is on the decline, thanks to the widespread adoption of online messaging services and smartphone apps, such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Apple´s iMessage has often been blamed for the recent decrease in text messages sent. Though the SMS is still a very popular option for those looking to get a short message across reliably, these other services have begun to eat into the monthly average of texts sent. Last month, independent mobile analyst Chetan Sharma noted that Americans are sending about 18 texts less each month than they were earlier in the year. While this is a nominal decline, it´s important to note as it´s also the first time text message numbers have declined since SMS´ conception.

“With the onset of 4G everywhere, I can imagine that operators must be looking to reduce the number of different systems they have to maintain,” said Papworth, explaining where he believes SMS will be heading in the future.

“Once everyone is 'always on” and on the data network, why use SMS ? Maybe because someone, somewhere still doesn´t have a data plan, or a smartphone. Everyone has their own preference for IM software — but what has EVERYONE got on their phone ? I can see SMS being around for a long while yet.”