Texting Invented 25 Years Ago

For 25 years, people have stopped conversations, on hearing a bleep from their phone. With Whatsapp, Gmail and Facebook Messenger amongst a long list of mobile notifications, we forget for a long time, SMS(or texting) was the only way to send messages by phone.

Google “Who invented SMS” and it will list, amongst others: Matti Makkonen, Finn Trosby, Friedhelm Hillebrand, Bernard Ghillebaert, Oculy Silaban, Neil Papworth. And that’s just Googles’s first page!(Feb 2013)

The Authority of Print

In the olden days, people visited public buildings full of books, where you could read, for free. Called libraries, you could ask a highly educated, well-informed and under-employed librarian to source a book for you. Asking ‘Who created SMS?’, you’d most likely come away with a book called “Short Message Service”, published by Wiley in 2010. It contains names of anybody of importance in the creation of SMS. It’s a book forensic in its detail.

Fake News, Post-Truth, Alternative Facts…

These days, ‘research’ normally means clicking on the first search result from Google. Despite Google’s increasingly complex algorithms, it still lacks discrimination for the truth. Wikipedia actually fairs far better than perceived(as anyone who’s read the study pitting itself(and winning) against Encyclopedia Britannica will tell you). However, it often lacks detail in complex and controversial areas.

So serious journalists sort through contradictory Google search results. Many, on short dead-lines, go down the ill-advised democratic route, by picking whatever answer seems to have the most independent citations!

“Repeat a lie often enough and people believe it”.

How many people know we pay £110 – £120m every week to the EU? Biased reporting means this figure has been drowned out. Hearing repeatedly the false claim that the weekly figure(£350m) is a lie, detracts from the genuine financial costs. Whilst misleading – as we get £230-£240m back – this ignores what we do pay.

As a net contributor, the EU gets 16% of its funding from the UK(almost a sixth). In contrast, other than France and Germany, the remaining EU countries take more than they give. The Remain campaign failed, but it illustrates how disinterested most people are in uncovering the real facts.

Give Me the Facts. Who created SMS?

Do a Google search and most conclude Matti Makkonen invented SMS. Interestingly, his name doesn’t appear anywhere in the comprehensively researched Wiley book on SMS.

It’s quicker to duplicate, than write, original content. So, all those wrong media articles, with erroneous accounts, get more citations in Google. As this snowballs, lazy thinkers trot out the line, “if everyone is saying the same thing, it can’t be wrong”.

Well it can… and they are!

Defining a Text Message

It’s pointless trying to track the idea of SMS to, say, a single person in the 15th Century thinking hill-top beacons could become a simple messaging system. Similarly, in the early 1980’s the world was awash with people having ideas about mobile messaging. We need to establish who came up the system we use today.

What we recognise as SMS today originated in a document in the joint Franco-German R & D trials in October 1984. It called for the provision of

  • a message transmission service
  • of alphanumeric messages
  • to mobile users with acknowledgement capabilities.

Creators of The Concept

SMS needs to operate over a ‘GSM ‘network. It’s clear from the minuted meetings there’s no link between Matti Makkonen and the conception of SMS.

The archives and subsequent accounts show there were only two innitiators – Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. They were the guiding hands in the conception of the service. However, they weren’t responsible for shaping a very successful technical solution.

Creators of The Technology

Finn Trosby, Kevin Holley and Ian Harris, delivered the techinical solution. These are the five most credible innovators of SMS – delivering both a brilliant concept and a viable technical solution respectively.

Who Sent the First SMS?

The first SMS was sent from a PC, over an operational GSM network, by 22 year old engineer Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone. Richard received it on his Orbitel 901 phone on 3rd December 1992.

There have been others who claim to have sent the first SMS but they miss the point. These sort of “firsts” are media events to mark a commercial milestone – in this case a Vodafone milestone.

For example, it’s widely accepted that the British TV Comedian Ernie Wise made the first cellular call over the UK cellular networks in 1985.

Ernie Wise did not make the first UK cellular call. It was another Ernie (Harrison), the Vodafone Chairman, who phoned his son, half an hour earlier. But the commercial milestone was the Ernie Wise call. That’s what the media came to record so that becomes the story. Vodafone now say the first call was from the son to Ernie Harrison.

Adoption of SMS

Most accounts then leap straight to the huge phenomenon of young people, showing the way, sending SMS messages to each other. In reality, the reason for the delay between launch in late 1992 and wide-scale adoption in the mid to late 1990s was financial.

There was the massive reduction in costs in technology, leading to mobile phones moving from a purely expensive business tool to a mass consumer item. Also by around 1995, a substantial number of GSM networks, were providing inter-connection of SMS messaging and mobile “pre-paid” (pioneered by Portuguese GSM operator TMN).

Nokia 5110Once the mobile became so cheap, most parents could afford to give children one, the conditions for mass take-off of SMS fell into place.

Launched in March 1998, for many living through this era, the Nokia 5110(pictured here) was their first mobile phone. SMS messages cost up to 10 times less than a telephone call. Recognising the financial savings, children quickly mastered the keyboard interface. This is what drove SMS messaging volumes into the stratosphere in the youth market.

Archive Document – 1991

It’s interesting to read, in 1991, how SMS was being viewed, at the point when GSM networks were only just being switched on.

View the paper here presented by Kevin Holley, to IEE Colloquium on GSM and PCN Enhanced Mobile Services in January 1991. It offers us this unique view of SMS – even before the first SMS message had been sent.

2017-12-04T10:23:34+00:00 Dec 3, 2017|Fad or Innovation?|