‘SMS is far from over’: he sent the first message of its kind, 30 years ago – 03/12/2022

🇧🇷merry christmas” (Merry Christmas, in Portuguese). This was the message typed by telecommunications engineer Neil Papworth in the world’s first official SMS (Short Message Service) message, exactly 30 years ago.

The information exchange feature, which sometimes made WhatsApp in Brazil back in the 2000s, was the first to take advantage of the telephone signal to send and receive text messages — this even before mobile communication worked via apps.

In an exclusive interview with Tilt🇧🇷 Papworth remembers the text of “Merry Christmas” was transmitted from his computer to the cell phone of his superior at the time, Richard jarvisat a holiday party, in a hotel lobby across newbury, home town of Vodafone, UK. The company was responsible for the first shipment using the technology, on December 3, 1992.

Despite the Christmas context and celebratory atmosphere, behind the SMS the situation was more tense than it seemed.

“I was surrounded by executives who wanted to sell cell phones with the feature, looking to see if the message had arrived in that hotel,” says papworth🇧🇷 “Only when one of them called the hotel and made a like [confirmando que o SMS havia funcionado] I was able to breathe peacefully again.”

“Simpler Times”

Admittedly a card-carrying nerd, Papworth tells Tilt who received his first computer at age 10, which made him envision having a degree in computer science at a young age.

At the age of 21, he was already working at Vodafone, on GSM architecture projects (Global System for Mobile — evolution of mobile technology that allowed, for example, roaming International)common to all cell phones at the time.

Before working on SMS development, Papworth was one of those responsible for programming the IMEI, an individual security key used to block cell phones remotely in case of loss or theft (it works as if it were a device’s CPF).

“These were simpler times because everything was produced ‘in a waterfall’, and something was always reused in another project”, he comments.

How did SMS come about?

From concept to first message, SMS took about a year and a team of thirty-six people — time he considers unusual for today’s times.

“For me, it was what I had to do. I was 21 years old, I liked coding and testing, and I often worked weekends because I had free pizza,” says Papworth, laughing.

The engineer admits that he did not expect that the standard — and its respective evolution, the MMS, which allows emojis, images and audio — would have the form and popularity that it has achieved.

“I remember that Vodafone’s initial idea was to create personal devices (pagers) for executives to receive messages — and that’s all, without answering them”, he highlights.

The use that people and companies started to give to the technology that Papworth saw being born was impressive: “people started to order food or be answered by SMS even before banks and delivery apps.”

According to Infobip, an SMS solutions company, in a survey of 250 people in Brazil, around 57% of respondents said they had already sent SMS on other subjects, including ending relationships with partners. In personal emergencies, 44% have used the message method to ask for help.

Evolution of SMS

  • It allowed messages of up to 160 characters (over time it evolved and today it allows sending images, videos, audios and emojis)
  • Initially it was expensive, but over time it gained popularity and became the center of promotions. In Brazil, operators even offer unlimited SMS depending on the contracted package.
  • Nowadays, it is heavily used as a security tool in two-factor authentication processes of applications. In this process, access codes are sent to the phone number so that the user can confirm that he is himself.

Future of SMS

With the growth of messaging service applications (such as WhatsApp, Telegram and others), SMS ended up losing space in some countries — Brazil is one of them.

Currently, around here, the resource is used more to receive automatic messages and security codes. Despite this, the author of the first SMS believes that we are still far from having an end.

“Some people still prefer to send SMS, others have adapted to Facebook Messenger, or Instagram. But SMS is still part of those features that we grow and get used to, just like email”, he concludes.

It is estimated that SMS will generate more than US$ 50 billion in 2023 worldwide in the advertising blast sector, according to Juniper Research.

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