SMS is now 20 years old. The first text message was sent on December 3, 1992 in the UK and Ericsson was one of the key contributors to the standard. Prepaid charging systems helped mobile telephony and SMS take off a few years later. 2011 almost 10 trillion texts were sent in, and the technology can now change lives and improve safety.

The original idea behind SMS existed as far back as 1988 when the European Telecommunications Standards Initiative (ETSI) brought it to first digital pan-European standard (at that time) GSM. Ericsson was one of the key contributors to the standard, and the focus was to make a highly robust and reliable system and network.

Initially, the main intention behind SMS was to send text messages telling consumers that they had got a voice mail. Subscribers previously had to call the voice-mail center for this purpose.

On December 3, 1992, the first text message was sent from a person to another person, with the greetings "Merry Christmas." But even though the service was developed to make it a text message between people, it still didn’t take off. In 1995, for example, the average user sent only 0.4 text messages per month.

It was when the prepaid business model was developed and used, that mobile telephony and the SMS-service started to grow. Ericsson was one of the first to make real-time charging for SMS possible, and SMS then became a mass-market service. This was important, as it helped consumers control their spending, and operators ensured they got paid for the service.

The early heavy users were prepaid users in low-income segments in emerging markets.

Prepaid was the business model that unlocked the potential for mobile telephony to become a mass-market product. Anyone who could get hold of a mobile phone could stay connected and send text messages, and make calls, at an affordable price level.

Today, real-time charging is an enabler for so much more. It allows consumers to use all kinds of services and be in control of their spending. They know how much data they have left in their monthly mobile-broadband bundle, enabling them to pay for apps, bus tickets, and so on. SMS and real-time charging can change and save lives.

It took many years before the industry realized the potential of SMS. But today consumers send about 10 trillion text messages per year in global networks.

And it is still a favorite tool among youths. According to a 2012 Ericsson ConsumerLab report, texting is teenager’s favorite tool when meeting face-to-face isn’t an option.

Facts and figures

  • On December 3, 1992 the first text message was sent with the greeting "Merry Christmas."
  • In 1995, an average user sent 0.4 texts per month.
  • Later real-time charging for SMS was introduced, making it possible to offer SMS to prepaid subscribers.
  • In December 1998, there were about 45,000 prepaid users.
  • Predictive text input, such as T9 was introduced.
  • In 2000, 17 billion texts were sent.
  • In about 2001, features began to drive the market. Mobile phones got better screens and batteries. They also included calculators, alarm clocks, mobile internet, cameras, MMS, and so on.
  • In 2002, 352 billion text messages were sent, according to Informa Telecoms & Media.
  • The SMS service was mainly used by young people, especially young females.
  • In 2004, 918 billion texts were sent, according to Informa Telecoms & Media.
  • The drivers for SMS among young people were a sense of belonging, control and immediacy. Cost was the biggest barrier.
  • Mobile phones began to get media players and the quality of all the features improved. Ringtones became popular as a way to personalize phones.
  • Young people established new communication behaviors, coordinating their everyday lives and cementing peer relations and a sense of belonging.
  • After 2007, applications started to be downloaded in mobile phones.
  • SMS reminders began to be sent to remind users to go to, for example, the dentist or hair salon, to pick up tickets and boarding cards, and so on.
  • In 2008, there were 2.8 billion prepaid users and 4.8 trillion text messages were sent.
  • Today, Ericsson has surpassed the 2 billion mark in the number of worldwide subscriptions served by its charging and billing solutions, and SMS is still the most used service after voice.

Notes to editors

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Ericsson is the world's leading provider of communications technology and services. We are enabling the Networked Society with efficient real-time solutions that allow us all to study, work and live our lives more freely, in sustainable societies around the world.

Our offering comprises services, software and infrastructure within Information and Communications Technology for telecom operators and other industries. Today more than 40 percent of the world's mobile traffic goes through Ericsson networks and we support customers’ networks servicing more than 2.5 billion subscribers.

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