The first SMS was sent 30 years ago

Legend has it that 30 years ago, the first text was sent via Short Messaging Service, popularly known as SMS. It read “Merry Christmas” and was send by engineer Neil Papworth over the Vodafone GSM network to a mobile phone in the UK.

Even though we now have a wide range of other communications platforms, the SMS is still popular and according to Statista in 2021 there were 40 billion SMS messages sent in the UK. While 1 in 3 people still uses it as their default messaging platform, for adults aged 50-69, text messaging is the most used tech tool, overtaking email.

“I was blown away by how much and how often people used text messaging,” said Dave Pearce, who was SMS product manager for Vodafone. “We couldn’t have predicted how massive it would be.”

Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, recalled doing training on how to send and receive text messages: “People would give me a look of incredulity when I explained that to send my name as a text message I’d have to press the number 2 key twice, followed by a further two presses on both the 3 key and the 6 key just to create three letters B – E – N on the phone’s screen,” he said.

“It took off like wildfire and before long people were getting so fast at texting on phones, they could pretty much touch-type on a numeric keyboard. These days people spend more time looking at their phones than talking into them. SMS was arguably the catalyst for that transition.”

Google, the owner of Android, announce on the 30th SMS anniversary that its Messages app will support end-to-end encryption for group chats as well, for one-on-one conversations it has been available for a couple of years. As SMS are not end-to-end encrypted, they are not considered safe, Google also called Apple out to adopt RCS,

Rich Communications Services, saying: “All of the major mobile carriers and manufacturers have adopted RCS as the standard — except for Apple. Apple refuses to adopt RCS and continues to rely on SMS when people with iPhones message people with Android phones, which means their texting is stuck in the 1990s.”