Text Messaging Turns 20

The very first SMS text message ever sent was transmitted by Neil Papworth on December 3, 1992 via a desktop personal computer (as mobile phones didn’t yet have keyboards) to Mr. Richard Jarvis of Vodafone. The message said simply: ”Merry Christmas”.

So what has happened to text messaging in the twenty years since then? Here are some fun SMS messaging facts.

On January 1, 2003 the number of text messages sent in one day broke one hundred million for the first time. One year later on January 1, 2004 that daily total had reached 111 million messages.

In 2011 there were some 7.8 trillion SMS text messages sent. It is estimated that the number of text messages sent by the end of 2012 will be around 9.6 trillion. Just how big is that number? If every text message were just one inch long, and the messages were attached together in a single file line, then that line of text from 2012 would be 151,515,152 miles long. The circumference of the earth is a paltry 24,901 miles. So that string of text would wrap around the earth over 6,000 times.

China is generally held to be the world’s largest mobile community with over 431 million mobile Internet users (as reported by the Chinese government). In China the top three most popular mobile activities are: instant messaging (62 percent); search (48 percent); web music (45 percent).

98 percent of text messages are read within a few minutes of receipt – most emails are read within 48 hours. 86 percent of consumers send or receive at least one text message every week.

In a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center of 21 nations across the globe, the countries who reported using SMS in the highest percentages were: Indonesia (96 percent), Kenya (89 percent), and Lebanon (87 percent). The average across all 21 countries was 75 percent using SMS. In a related study of SMS activity, Pew found that the younger the user the more likely they are to turn to SMS for communication. In fact, SMS users between the ages of 18 and 24 exchanged over 100 text messages per day.

In the United Kingdom the number of SMS messages sent has been rising at an annual rate of over 22 percent. In the first quarter of 2011 that amounted to nearly 37 billion SMS messages and about 150 billion for the entire year. According to Managing Director Daniel Foster at UK web hosting company 34SP.com, he uses SMS alerts for his small business and receives over 100 SMS alerts per day nearly every day of the year. This confirms other findings which include that the average UK mobile user sends 50 texts per week. This is a doubling of texting in the past four years.

Forester Research reports that more than 80 percent of the US population owns a mobile phone. Of these mobile phone owners, around 70 percent regularly send or receive text messages. The average number of SMS messages sent is growing in the US by around 14 percent per year. US mobile users currently send over 6 billion SMS messages per day.

According to research conducted by tatango, nearly 70 percent of mobile users reported receiving SMS spam – with women under 17 years of age being the most likely to encounter SMS spam. Even so, spam via SMS is much more rare than spam via email. Statistics show that up to 65 percent of email is spam while considerably less than 10 percent of SMS is spam.

Proposed legislation has recently been submitted by law enforcement representatives to the United States Congress which would standardize the period of time that SMS messages need to be archived by mobile carriers. Arguing that they may be needed for lengthy criminal investigations, the law enforcement contingent is seeking legislation to require carriers to archive all SMS records for 2 full years.

CNN has reported that 25 percent of Google searches in South Africa are conducted via a mobile device. That number rises to fully 65 percent of searches on the weekends.

Finally, why are SMS texts restricted to 160 characters? Simple, a guy named Friedhelm Hillebrand typed out random sentences on a typewriter in 1985. To communicate a line or two of text (basically a standard short message) Mr. Hillebrand noticed that it usually took less than 160 characters. Problem solved. You can read much more detail here at the LA Times where they currently have no such character limits on stories.

Here’s hoping you enjoy the next 20 years of SMS texting!


34SP.com Staff

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