The SMS celebrates its 30th anniversary: ​​how was it born, how did it grow and… will it soon die?

Florent Lanne

December 03, 2022 at 1:00 p.m.


SMS old phone boomer © Peter Gudella /

© Peter Gudella/Shutterstock

The SMS blows out its 30 candles this Saturday, December 3. Retrospective on its history, its peak… and its descent into hell.

Already 30 years old! December 3, 1992 was a landmark day in digital history, since the first commercial SMS was sent by a man named Neil Papworth. Hesitant about the idea of ​​deploying this new technology to their customers, telephone operators thought that the concept would flop and that users would prefer voice communication to written exchanges. However, even if, at that time, SMS were billed individually, the price, much lower than that of a telephone call, greatly contributed to popularizing this mode of communication.

The birth of new uses related to SMS

This famous first commercial SMS sent 30 years ago to the day by Neil Papworth on Vodafone’s GSM network was written on a computer and contained the message “ Merry Christmas “. Remember that at that time, phones did not have a keyboard to enter text.

Merry Christmas SMS

© Abaca

The democratization of mobile phones has greatly contributed to the success of SMS from the early 2000s. SFR also registered the term “texto” in 2001. as a registered trademark. Over the years, SMS has become an effective way to unclog the telephone network established on voice communication. The number of messages sent literally soared, creating a new market on its own.

Thus were born new uses such as having viewers vote for a candidate in a program by sending 1 or 2 by SMS to a premium rate number. In the same vein, many economic players have taken an interest in SMS, leading to the appearance of the precursor of smartphone push notifications, namely notifications on the delivery status of a parcel or two-way authentication. factors (2FA) when purchasing by bank card on the Internet.

Explosion in the number of SMS sent

Over the years, the popularity of texting has skyrocketed. In 2007, it is estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 text messages were sent every second worldwide. In 2011, the figure is multiplied by four, or an average of 200,000 SMS per second.

In the golden age of SMS, there were also certain slowdowns in reception during the end-of-year celebrations, and particularly during New Year’s Eve. The network, then overloaded, did not allow all users to send and receive Happy New Year messages on time. The rain of text messages planned for each New Year’s Eve will even go so far as to create a form of cooperation between the various operators in order to ensure continuity of service.

© Pexels

The future of SMS seemed all mapped out. But that was without taking into account the rapid evolution of technology and the arrival of the mobile Internet network. Taking advantage of the rise of the smartphone, its applications and the exponential growth of mobile data envelopes offered in operators’ packages, certain services have positioned themselves as direct competitors of SMS. Here we mention one of the most famous and used worldwide: WhatsApp.

Based on the internet protocol, instant messaging services have become more and more popular with users. Note that some countries do not have mobile Internet envelopes as generous as those offered by French operators. From this observation, certain foreign operators, such as those established in Latin American countries, have marketed offers including the sending of unlimited messages on certain messaging applications, and in particular through WhatsApp. A new competitive market was born and is now making life difficult for SMS.

Ecological impact

At a time when the ecological impact of our actions has never been so highlighted, experts are urging us to return to SMS, especially for advertising campaigns. Although the dematerialized is not mentally perceptible as a pollutant, unlike the gases emitted by a vehicle, it is worth remembering that 4% of global CO emissions2 are directly related to digital. By way of comparison, this figure represents twice the emissions produced by the aeronautics sector. It is estimated that a message sent on an instant messaging application represents an emission of 0.2 to 0.9 g of CO2. The ecological impact here depends on the content of the message, namely the presence or not of an image, a GIF, emojis, etc.

Preferred to SMS, communications by instant messaging on mobile are certainly more practical from the point of view of the user experience, but they are much more polluting. With an emission of 0.014 g of CO2the SMS thus obtains the gold palm of the most eco-responsible means of communication.

So what will be the future of SMS? Is it really doomed to disappear in favor of mobile applications? Only the future will be able to tell us. In the meantime, let’s wish SMS a happy birthday!

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