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Text messaging turns 20 today

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first text message correspondence in the UK. Engineer Neil Papworth sent the first SMS to Vodafone’s Richard Jarvis on 3 December 1992 with the message “Merry Christmas”.

The message was sent from a computer to an Orbitel 901 handset with Jarvis having no way of replying to the text, as it would take his company two more years until it launched the nation’s first text messaging service in 1994.

The once-free service was restricted by a 160-character limit leading to the innovation of ‘text speak’; a form of word abbreviation involving the switching of letters and words with numbers and symbols that sound similar phonetically or relate a semantic meaning e.g. later/l8r, happy/:-).

Messaging has since become one of the leading forms of telecommunication with Ofcom estimating that the average mobile user sends around 50 texts a week. The regulator also noted that 150 billion texts where sent during 2011. That is almost triple the amount recorded in 2006 which was 51 billion.

2012 saw a sharp decline in texting, as the first half of the year saw two consecutive quarterly findings according to Ofcom; Q1 recorded 39.1 billion texts in the UK and Q2, 38.5 billion texts. This compares to Q4 2011 figure of 39.7 billion.

The drop in volume has been ascribed to the increased proliferation of smartphones, as 39 per cent of adults own one. Smartphones users can use one of many instant messaging applications (Skype, Windows Live Messenger, BBM Whatsapp, Viber) to send messages either for very cheap or for free.

“For the first time in the history of mobile phones, SMS volumes are showing signs of decline,” said James Thickett, Ofcom’s director of research

“However the availability of a wider range of communications tools like instant messaging and social networking sites, mean that people might be sending fewer SMS messages, but they are ‘texting’ more than ever before,” he added.