On a cold December day nearly thirty years ago, the world's first text message was sent. During that time, texting has come a long way.

Read on for a short history lesson on SMS text messaging. Plus, discover how businesses can access this technology today and what to expect from it in the future.

Who created the Short Message Service?

The late Matti Makkonen, a Finnish mobile communications engineer, is widely believed to be the father of SMS. But although he was an integral part of the process, he didn't single-handedly invent the technology.

Instead, it was a multi-national collaboration effort. The concept came about in 1984-1985 when Bernard Ghillebaert and Friedhelm Hillebrand created GSM documents: the standards for text messaging.

When was the first text message sent?

The first-ever text message was sent on 3 December 1992 by Neil Papworth, a young software programmer from the UK.

It was sent from a computer to the Orbitel 901 cell phone of Neil's colleague, Richard Jarvis of Vodafone (who couldn't reply as there was no way to send text messages to mobile phones at the time).

Vodafone was one of the key service providers involved in SMS development, while Nokia introduced the first texting feature on phones in 1993. Other networks followed suit, although it wasn't until 1999 that cross-network text messaging was made possible.

What was the first SMS content?

Neil Papworth decided to make the world's first text message remarkably short and sweet; it just said, 'Merry Christmas'.

However, although the message itself was simple, it marked a pivotal moment in mobile communications history, just like the world's first phone call.

Smartphone keyboard

The adoption of SMS technology

The invention of text messaging gave us a fast and convenient way of reaching friends and family and provided a substitute for voice calls. Yet, the adoption of SMS technology took a little time.

In 1995, only 0.4 texts were sent per GSM customer per month, partly due to operators being slow to set up and perfect charging systems.

Fast forward to 2007, however, and SMS became the most widely used data service, with 75% of worldwide mobile users actively texting. And in 2010, 200,000 text messages were sent every minute, and 6.1 trillion texts were sent globally, according to the International Telecommunications Union.

Is SMS effective now, 30 years on?

Although SMS usage has seen peaks and troughs over the last three decades, there's plenty of evidence to support it still being an immensely popular channel. In the U.S. alone, 2.2 trillion SMS or MMS messages were sent in 2020, an increase from a sharp decline in 2017 (1.5 trillion).

Many businesses now recognise that SMS is a powerful tool for reaching customers, especially for time-sensitive communications. Why? Texts are sent over a cellular network and don't rely on the internet, meaning they can be delivered even in remote areas as long as there's a phone signal.

Woman scrolling her smartphone in a blue jean jacket outside

It's also a long-standing fact that texts have an incredible open rate of 98%, which isn't surprising when you consider that the average person picks up their mobile phone a whopping 58 times a day.

More than that though, texts do really well in terms of engagement too. For example, a retailer study found that text messages produce six to eight times the engagement rate normally achieved via email marketing.

The way customers prefer to be contacted by businesses varies depending on the type of message and audience demographic. 88% of millennials, for instance, prefer to text over calling. (So including SMS as part of a customer service strategy makes sense for businesses targeting this particular audience group.)

Group of friends looking at their smartphones

The future of text messages

Well, although there are now several rival apps around, SMS is undoubtedly here to stay, not least because these apps rely on SMS to enrol a new user. Take WhatsApp, for instance – to create a WhatsApp account, you must first verify your phone number with a unique code delivered by SMS.

Furthermore, text message technology itself is continually evolving. So, what can the world expect from SMS going forwards?

1. Verified SMS

First up, there's Verified SMS. That's a new type of text message service for Android devices.

It allows you to add branding to your texts to convey trustworthiness, e.g., your logo, a description, a verification badge and the option to preview links. Thus, helping you create and deliver texts with maximum impact.

2. Rich Communication Service (RCS)

RCS text messaging is Android's new and improved messaging protocol. Users can access an enriched chat experience within their native messaging app (Google Messages). Features include real-time typing indicators, integrated file sharing, read receipts and the option to make audio or video calls.

There's no limit on characters or file size either (unlike with standard text) – so sending images and videos is a breeze. Read how RCS is paving the way for brands to deliver a better customer experience.

Asian woman looking at her pink smartphone

Wondering what to read next? Don't miss these guides on the most important topics in the industry. For more information about using text messages for business communication, get in touch today.