History of Texting on Mobile Phones


The growth of text messaging in the late 1990s and 2000s took the industry by surprise. SMS, or short-message service, is an example of how consumers can shape technology. There are several text messaging protocols in 2010, but text messaging originated using the SMS protocol on the GSM network.

Plans for Texting

  • As mobile phone technology began to grow in the early 1980s, a group of European telecommunications experts came together to create the Global System for Mobile Communications, or GSM. GSM would become a standard for technology companies to follow and allow multiple companies to create devices that would all work on the same network. When the originators of GSM were discussing the services and features to include with the standard, the idea of text messaging was born. The original concept was for one-way messages that could alert phone users about incoming voice mail. The IDEG, or Implementation of Data and Telematics Services Experts Group, formed in 1987 and was in charge of creating SMS standards for the GSM network.

The first text message

  • Neil Papworth, working for Airwide Solutions, sent the first text message, "Merry Christmas," to Vodaphone's Richard Jarvis across the GSM network in December of 1992. An engineering student working for Nokia sent the first text message from a mobile phone in 1993.

Slow growth

  • GSM phones were able to send text messages in the early 1990s, but it remained an unpopular feature for a number of years. Initially the adoption of text messaging was slow because it was not possible to send messages to people using different phone carriers. It was also not until the late 1990s when the number of teenage owners of mobile phones began to increase and text messaging found its primary market.

Teenage Adopters

  • When the phone carriers began releasing prepaid phones in the late 1990s, a younger crowd began to become involved in the mobile-phone market. The initial billing platform for text messages on prepaid phones was easy to exploit and for a few months text messaging was a free service for prepaid customers. The cell carriers eventually fixed the billing issues, but in those few months, the public found a need for text messaging.

Growth in the 2000s

  • Text messaging began as messages sent using the SMS standard on the GSM network. As competing networks grew in the early 2000s, they either adopted the SMS standard or created different standards for text messaging. Text messaging was eventually included on almost every model of phone and its growth bears that out. According to a Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association survey, there were more than 1.5 trillion text messages sent in 2009. This breaks down to more than 200 messages for every person on earth.

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