First SMS Text Message in 1992?

Wikipedia, a generally reliable source, reckons that the first SMS text message was sent in 1992. This sounds about right. More specifically, Wikipedia says:

SMS messaging was first used in December 1992, when Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old test engineer for Sema Group, used a personal computer to send the text message "Merry Christmas" via the Vodafone network to the phone of Richard Jarvis.

SMS took off in Europe, due to the high penetration of mobile phones. The high cost of calls meant that young people quickly adopted the technology, being prepared to get fluent with the inconvenient alphabetical mappings of the phone keypad. SMS penetrated the US and Canada much later, partly because instant messaging was already widely used. My recollection is that SMS was widespread in the UK by about 1995, but only became common in the US around 2008--these are just impressions of penetration dates, I would welcome further input.

If anyone has further information, please post a comment.

David Ferris

One Comment

  1. Dovid Gross
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 3:20 PM | Permalink

    WikiPedia is not a generally reliable source, because it does not have consistently reliable editors. While they have policies that encourage reliability, their core policy — of anyone-can-edit-anything — makes them unreliable.

    However, the information in this case is reliable, as demonstrated from WikiPedia’s source, BBC News, usually reliable for non-political information.

    European widespread use began around 1999, and in the US, around 2004. Near-universal use in Europe came around 2003, and in the US around 2006. The main promoter of early SMS in EUrope was the cost difference between SMS and voice. In the US, the cost of mobile voice was considerably lower, reducing the attarction of SMS. IN addition, technologically, impediments existed in the standards: the CDMA and TDMA standards in use by Verizon and AT&T had to adapt SMS from the GSM standard already being rolled out in Europe. This delay cascaded into later network capability and handset capability.

  2. David Ferris
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:36 AM | Permalink

    Thanks David, it’s great to have you validate and enhance this piece.

    On Wikipedia, I agree that the anyone-can-edit-anything approach raises concerns about reliability. Nevertheless, I understand that a number of studies show the Wikipedia manages to be as reliable as, or more reliable than, formal encyclopedias written by wise men.


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