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History of the Cellular (Cell/Mobile) Phone - Technology - Short Message Service (SMS)















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Short Message Service (SMS) is a text messaging service component of phone, web, or mobile communication systems. It uses standardized communications protocols that allow the exchange of short text messages between fixed line or mobile phone devices.

As of 2012, SMS text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world, having a staggering 2.4 billion active users, which represents about 75% of all mobile phone subscribers. In many parts of the world, the term SMS is used as a synonym for all types of short text messaging as well as the user activity itself. SMS is also being used as a form of direct marketing known as SMS marketing.

The origins of SMS as used on modern handsets go back to radio telegraphy in radio memo pagers using standardized phone protocols. In 1985, SMS was defined as part of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) series of standards as a means of sending messages of up to 160 characters to and from GSM mobile handsets. Since then, support for the service has expanded to include other mobile technologies such as ANSI CDMA networks and Digital AMPS, as well as satellite and landline networks. Most SMS messages are mobile-to-mobile text messages though the standard also supports other types of broadcast messaging.

History of SMS

Going back to the beginning of the 1980s, the idea of adding text messaging to the services of mobile users was not common in many communities of mobile communication services. The first action plan of the CEPT Group GSM, approved in December 1982, requested "The services and facilities offered in the public switched telephone networks and public data networks... should be available in the mobile system". This target included the exchange of text messages either directly between mobile stations, or transmitted via Message Handling Systems widely in use since the beginning of the 1980s.

The SMS concept was developed during the Franco-German GSM cooperation in 1984 by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. The innovation in SMS is Short. The GSM is optimized for telephony, since this was identified as its main application. The key idea for SMS was to use this telephony-optimized system, and to transport messages on the signaling paths needed to control the telephony traffic during time periods when no signaling traffic existed. In this way, unused resources in the system could be taken advantage of to transport messages at minimal cost. However, it was necessary to limit the length of the messages to 128 bytes (later improved to 140 bytes, or 160 seven-bit characters) so that the messages could fit into the existing signaling formats.

This concept allowed SMS to be implemented in every mobile station 'simply' by updating its software. This concept was instrumental for the implementation of SMS in every mobile station ever produced and in every network from early days. Hence, a large base of SMS capable terminals and networks existed when the users began to utilize the SMS. A new network element required was a specialized short message service center, and enhancements were required to the radio capacity and network transport infrastructure to accommodate growing SMS traffic.

Early Development of SMS

The technical development of SMS was a multinational collaboration supporting the framework of standards bodies, and through these organizations the technology was made freely available to the whole world.

The first proposal which initiated the development of SMS was made by a contribution of Germany and France into the GSM group meeting in February 1985 in Oslo. This proposal was further elaborated in GSM subgroup WP1 Services (Chairman Martine Alvernhe, France Télécom) based on a contribution from Germany. There were also initial discussions in the subgroup WP3 network aspects chaired by Jan Audestad (Telenor). The result was approved by the main GSM group in a June '85 document which was distributed to industry. The input documents on SMS had been prepared by Friedhelm Hillebrand (Deutsche Telekom) with contributions from Bernard Ghillebaert (France Télécom).

SMS was considered in the main GSM group as a possible service for the new digital cellular system. In GSM document "Services and Facilities to be provided in the GSM System", both mobile-originated and mobile-terminated short messages appear on the table of GSM teleservices.

The discussions on the GSM services were concluded in the recommendation GSM 02.03 "TeleServices supported by a GSM PLMN".

SMS Today

In 2010, 6.1 trillion SMS text messages were sent. This translates into 192000 SMS per second. SMS has become a massive commercial industry, earning $114.6 billion globally in 2010. The global average price for an SMS message is $0.11, while mobile networks charge each other interconnect fees of at least $0.04 when connecting between different phone networks.

While SMS is still a growing market, traditional SMS are becoming increasingly challenged by alternative messaging services which are available on smartphones with data connections, especially in western countries where some of these services attract users.

Social Messaging Applications Caused Operators to Lose $13.9bn in 2011

It was reported in February 2012 that social messaging applications caused mobile network operators to lose $13.9bn (£8.8bn) in SMS revenue in 2011.

Analysis firm Ovum studied global use of popular services like Whatsapp, Blackberry Messenger and Facebook chat.

It concluded that mobile operators must "work together to face the challenge from major internet players".

You can find out more about Short Message Service (SMS) and its history here:

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