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After 30 years, SMS lives on

Research shows the global popularity of SMS continues three decades after the first message: a Christmas greeting.

It was on 3 December 1992 that 22-year-old English software engineer Neil Papworth used a computer to send the first SMS message.

Delivered to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis, it read “Merry Christmas”. Jarvis never replied.

According to Statista, it took a while for text messages to really take off, but in the early 2000s “texting”, as SMS was known in the USA, hit the mainstream there and became a lucrative side business for mobile carriers. At the time, operators typically charged a fee of $0.10 to $0.20 per SMS, which, considering the 160-character limit, quickly piled up for more chatty users, and they jumped ship when messaging apps arrived. 

Hoeevet, research from globalcloud communications platform Infobip shows that despite the rise of new communication channels, SMS remains popular, with a 75% increase in use in 2022 compared to 2021. 

Infobip analysed more than 153-billion communications interactions on its platform from the first half of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. It shows that SMS remains a top three channel in every region worldwide, including Europe, Eurasia, North America, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, Africa, India and Asia-Pacific.  

According to Statista, text messaging including MMS in the United States peaked in 2011, when U.S. cell phone users sent a total of 2.4-trillion messages, up from 162-billion five years earlier.

“Over the proceeding few years however, the popularity of text messages, at least in the form of SMS, began to wane,” writes Statista data Journalist Martin Armstrong. 

“These days, smartphone users mainly text each other using free SMS alternatives such as iMessage or WhatsApp. That said, the good old-fashioned SMS is still clinging on to its relevance, with somewhat of a reprisal in recent years in the U.S. and a solid 2-trillion sent last year.”

With the highest open rates and return on investment, Infobip’s analysis shows that businesses and brands continue to use SMS for timely alerts and security solutions, including two-factor authentication. Highlighting the versatility of the channel, the data also shows that SMS made up 16% of total customer engagement and marketing interactions.  

Ivan Ostojić, chief business officer at Infobip, says: “SMS has evolved from a personal messaging platform to a key tool for business to consumer communications.

“As one of the most reliable and practical ways for brands to ensure their message reaches their customers, it is the go-to channel for time-sensitive alerts and security notifications. With its global reach and no reliance on internet connectivity, we expect SMS to continue to play a key role in future business-to-consumer communications.”   

Infobip also finds that many sectors continue to rely on SMS. For instance: 

  • Banking and finance saw 68% more SMS interactions, where firms use SMS for timely alerts.
  • Retail and eCommerce recorded 22% more SMS interactions, where brands use it for retail marketing automation.
  • Telecoms saw 48% more SMS interactions, where firms rely on SMS for reliable, secure messaging with an international customer base.

“The original SMS message sent 30 years ago by 22-year-old software programmer Neil Papworth helped forge a path to global connectivity,” says Ostojić. 

“That connectivity has evolved and rapidly grown in recent years, and Infobip now handles hundreds of billions of messages every year, reaching 75% of mobile phones globally.”  

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