A brief 30-year history of SMS

Topic: Technology
Image displaying graphic of old mobile phone to show the phones we used with SMS was first used and sent

It’s been 30 years since the first SMS was sent. And in that time, the little text messages we send each other have become a massive part of how people and businesses communicate. It took time to catch on. In fact, it was a decade after the first SMS was sent, when text messaging really took off. Since then, the humble text message has had a significant impact worldwide. 

It all started in December 1992, when Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old engineer, sent the text message “Merry Christmas” via the Vodafone network to a colleague’s phone. By 1993, SMS was being sent commercially, and Nokia introduced a text message feature with a particular ‘beep’ sound to signal an incoming message. 

Nostalgic image of man holding Nokia mobile phone and portable tape player. Text on image identifies the year 1992 and one message recieved.

SMS slowly takes off 

The adoption of SMS took time. Until 1999, texting between networks was impossible; for example, Vodafone users could only communicate with their Vodafone friends. Also, mobile phones were expensive, and the costs of using networks were high. It wasn’t until 2001 that SMS marketing took off, and by 2002, on SMS’s 10th birthday, over 250 billion text messages were sent worldwide. 

The rise of technology

By the mid 2000s, SMS had become commonplace worldwide. And by 2010, ‘Texting’ got ‘verbed’, and 6.1 trillion messages had been sent! More affordable mobiles were readily available, and touchscreen smartphones made it easier than ever to type and send text messages.

Alongside the mobile universe, however, the world was going through the internet and PC boom. Social media was also gathering pace. Online spaces such as Myspace, Facebook, and Tumblr were completely transforming the way we communicate.

Messaging started becoming more accessible and cheaper. Now people could write longer messages and tell the world exactly what they were up to and what they had for lunch! 

2012 marked the first year SMS usage decreased, but did this mean that SMS was destined to steadily decline?

SMS for business goes from strength to strength

Twitter came along in 2006, and ‘tweeting’ caught on rapidly worldwide. Everyone, from politicians to celebrities were jumping on the 140 character bandwagon.

How could SMS stand out from the crowd? Instagram, Twitter and Facebook messenger were great for communicating with friends and family, but were they equally effective when it came to business messaging?

If the first SMS had been sent in the 2020s, “Merry Christmas” would probably include “thanks for doing business with us” as well.

In the past ten years, SMS usage by businesses has boomed. 

Here are the many ways SMS can be used: 

  1. Appointment scheduling
  2. Reminders
  3. Customer service
  4. Order updates
  5. Emergency and service disruption alerts
  6. Sales and promotions
  7. Customer satisfaction survey

Texting is still king, but it’s also evolved into something much more significant. SMS has 98% open rates, meaning it is almost guaranteed a user will open a business text message sent their way. It’s no wonder SMS is a popular addition to a marketer’s toolkit.

Find out more about the power of SMS marketing and why it’s the key to growing customer loyalty and sales.

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