Launched in 1995 in Portugal, the text messaging service reached its peak in 2012, with more than 27 million text messages sent, and fell to 10 million in 2021, according to ANACOM data.
The world’s first SMS (Short Message Service) was sent 30 years ago, on December 3, 1992, by Briton Neil Papworth, a communications engineer at Sima Telecom Group, in the United Kingdom.
The message, a “Happy Birthday” wish, was sent from Neil Papworth’s computer to the Orbitel 901 mobile phone of Richard Jarvis of Vodafone.
The historic moment reached a new level in December 2021, when the first 15-character SMS was auctioned off as an NFT (“Non-Fungal Token” or “Non-Fungal Token”) for €107,000, during an event organized by Dar Aguttes in France.
In Portugal, the messaging service was launched in October 1995, when TMN (currently MEO) and Telecel (currently Vodafone) were in the market for mobile operators, according to data sent to the Lusa Agency by the Autoridade Nacional de Comunicações (ANACOM).
In October 1995, Telecel first launched this functionality for contract services, those that weren’t prepaid, a small percentage of the customer base, Lusa Nuno told Taveira, former SMS product manager and “messenger” at Vodafone.
One of the turning points for SMS growth was in February 2000, when an agreement was signed between the three current operators (after the advent of Optimus in 1998, currently NOS) to allow users to communicate between different networks, indicates the regulator.
The first data available in ANACOM specifically dates back to 2000, the year when the total number of SMS messages reached 550 million, which is about seven SMS messages per active user per month.
Peak SMS traffic was reached in 2012, when each active user sent 180 messages per month, for a total of 27,860,126 messages.
This number is still decreasing according to ANACOM data. In 2021, 68 SMS messages were sent per actual user per month (-62% compared to 2012), for a total of 10,729,392.
Another turning point in Portugal’s SMS service is the introduction of prepaid services, which has allowed the expansion of mobile service, said Teresa Salema, President of Fundação Portuguesa das Communicas, Lussa.
“We have to remember that the mobile network first grows in the higher segments. It was only after 1995, with the introduction of prepaid services, that we had a significant impact. At that time, text messages also appeared with greater intensity and reached absolute realization,” he pointed out. The famous one developed at that time by Portugal Telecom in Avero Laboratories.
There are currently more popular alternative ways to send messages, “instant messaging”, such as Whatsapp or Messenger applications, available for “smartphones” that combine text with the ability to send images, sounds, documents or common GIFs.
In 30 years, SMS usage has peaked and is now in decline. But its use in advertising and marketing, in terms of security, as an authentication factor, or the creation of a particular spelling, such as using a “k” to say “it,” are legacies that persist today.
However, the technology currently available to the community, said the head of the Portuguese Telecom Corporation, involves the integration of several factors.
“There are three things that are necessary, because in addition to equipment, access to networks is required, with the capacity and speed that we currently enjoy with fiber optics or 5G. And the ‘cloud’ (the cloud). These are three things that made us enjoy the services that we currently provide.”
Teresa Salema, who at the beginning of the 90s was at the Companhia Portuguesa Radio Marconi and has a three-decade career linked to the sector, also defended that the technologies exist to “improve the quality of life, as well as the health of the planet”.
Although there are now more efficient ways to send messages, Teresa Salema points out that all technologies eventually find their place.
He stressed that “the fixed network has its space. SMS has its space as well.”
He recalls that in the case of SMS, its popularity and widespread use via mobile phones ended with another service that had previously gained importance: pagers or the “alarm” service.
“At present, we only have here in the Museum what a written message of this kind was like. It was almost like a telegram, so it was shorter than an SMS.”
Furthermore, the Fundação Portuguesa das Comunicações, now 25 years old, has the dual mission of “preserving and showing all the heritage of Portugal’s telecom sector,” with its Communications Museum in Lisbon.
The history of communications is “much longer” compared to the decade when SMS was born, Teresa Selima said, and it is located in Portugal “five centuries ago, in 1520, with the creation of the Postal Service”.
He stressed that “at that time, King D. Manuel established the postal service precisely to support Portuguese maritime expansion. Because, as is evident, any economic development depends on a network of communications.”
The Museum of Communications currently has an exhibition marking its 25th anniversary, where it is possible to “touch and try things” on old and practical technologies, such as the typewriter, fax, telex and some GSM equipment, including Nokia with its famous “Snake”.
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