First text message sent 20 years ago today

Festive greeting by UK engineer spawned a $726 billion industry

Upwards of seven trillion text messages are sent every year but few people know that today marks their anniversary – the first text message, “Merry Christmas”, being sent by a British engineer.
Neil Papworth, who was 22 at the time and working for the Sema Group team helping to develop SMS software for Vodafone, programmed his computer to send the message to the Orbitel 901 mobile phone of Richard Jarvis, a director of the mobile giant who was at his company’s Xmas party in Newbury. It was a relatively simple feat but one that paved the way for an industry that now transmits 200,000 messages every second globally.Speaking to Sky News, Mr Papworth said he never envisaged that texting would be so popular.

“Back then I had no idea – I was just doing a day’s testing. It wasn’t until the 10th anniversary that I realised and thought ‘Wow, that was a big thing”.

“And here we are another ten years later and text messaging has gone on to even bigger and better things now.”

Initially, Vodafone envisaged SMS might prove a tool merely for secretaries who wanted to stay in touch with their executive bosses and it didn’t really take off until the late 1990s, when companies and governments began lifting regulations that until then only permitted sending texts between customers on the same network.

Ironically, two decades on, SMS messaging is now in decline as teenagers – the most prolific users – switch to social networks like Twitter and Facebook to communicate with each other.

In Britain, Ofcom figures show that text massaging has dropped from 39.7 billion at the end of last year to 38.5 billion in the last quarter [Q3 2912].

Even so, it’s reckoned mobile networks globally will earn $726 billion from SMS text messaging over the next five years.

About Dave Evans

Dave Evans was a long established commentator on both the IT and cellular industries. His last focus was on share price trends within the sector. He passed away in September [2014].
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