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When Did Texting Start: A Brief History of Texting

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

A brief history of text messaging

SMS (short messaging service) transmits messages between cellphones (SMS or SMPP) or from a PC or portable to a cellphone (SMTP). The "short" component derives from the 160-character limit on text messages, regardless of phone, provider, or technology.

Information routes and communication technology have advanced quickly in recent decades. Messaging was scarce before texting. Today’s smartphones are equipped with technology and services. But before smartphones came, services like RCS messaging, GSM, 3G, cross-network text messaging, bulk text messaging, and other features were only available using multiple devices.

Texting on 1990s phones required clicking on a small 10-number keyboard (predictive texting wasn't available yet). SMS text messaging replaced time-consuming phone calls with trillions of texts that instantly sent important information to the proper audience.

Today, you may transmit files to any device using WhatsApp and start mass texting with a button. Therefore, it's worth looking back at texting's amazing history since this technology has come so far.

The history of texting

The inception of text messaging

1837 – 1844 witnessed significant advancements in communication with the invention of the electric telegraph in 1837. This groundbreaking device marked the first-time text-based messages could be electronically transmitted from one place to another. Samuel Morse, the inventor of Morse Code, sent the initial telegram, which traveled only a short distance of two miles.

1844 – Morse had successfully established the first long-distance telegraph system spanning a total distance of 44 miles, connecting Baltimore and Washington. The inaugural message transmitted through this system carried the words, "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT." This powerful message, derived from a biblical reference found in the Book of Numbers, translates to "What has God made?" It aimed to emphasize the extraordinary nature of technological advancements and their miraculous impact on society.

Shortly thereafter, radio communication emerged with the introduction of radiotelegraphy or wireless telegraphy. Guglielmo Marconi played a pivotal role in this advancement by inventing the initial radio transmitters and receivers between 1894 and 1895, laying the foundation for the subsequent development of radiotelephony. By the early stages of 1908, transoceanic stations were capable of exchanging telegrams at a remarkable speed of up to 200 words per minute.

1933 – The Telex service was introduced by the German Reichspost (postal service) as a solution to address the limitations of telegraphs. Telex comprised a public network of teleprinters and bore striking resemblance to contemporary telephone networks.

1971 – The University of Hawaii employed ALOHAnet to transmit text message data through ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves. This pioneering technology laid the groundwork for the wireless networks we rely on today.

1984: Invention of Text Messaging

Text messaging was invented in 1984. Text messaging is now an integral part of day-to-day communications. We now send 23 billion text messages every day.

After that point, the specific details become somewhat unclear. Texting, unlike other breakthroughs in communication, does not have a singular, well-defined inventor like Edison. One individual often credited as the "Father of SMS" is Matti Makkonen, a Finnish engineer. It is said that Makkonen initially conceived the idea of sending text-based messages between mobile phones instead of pagers while discussing with colleagues at a pizzeria in Copenhagen during a telecoms industry conference in 1984.

However, Makkonen himself sought to minimize his central role in the invention of texting. In an interview with the BBC, he stated (via text message, fittingly), "I did not consider SMS as a personal achievement but as the result of a collaborative effort to gather ideas and create service specifications based on them."

Nevertheless, an alternative consensus has emerged, focusing on two other innovators who collaborated in 1984. Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert developed the theory and protocols for the "short message service" (SMS) while working together as part of the Franco-German cooperative Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM).

1985: Texting reached its character limit

While we may now consider text messages as an integral part of cell phones, their origins can be traced back to a different source. In 1985, as the GSM researchers aimed to go beyond theoretical concepts and establish a standardized text messaging service, an important realization occurred to Hillebrand. Surprisingly, this revelation did not come while he was using his phone but rather while he was seated at his typewriter.

Hillebrand started typing a series of random sentences and questions on a sheet of paper, and as he continued, he began to notice a consistent pattern. Regardless of the content, each entry ended up being nearly the same length. This observation led to the determination that the maximum number of characters for SMS would be set at 160, based on this specific character count.

Beginning of text messaging

1992: Texting through mobile phones started

Texting, or the practice of sending text-based messages via mobile phones, began in the early 1990s. The exact date is a matter of debate, but it is generally attributed to December 3, 1992.

On this day, engineer Neil Papworth sent the world's first text message from a computer to a mobile phone. The message, simply stating "Merry Christmas" was received by Richard Jarvis, who was using an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.

This event marked the beginning of a communication revolution that would reshape how people interact and communicate worldwide. Since then, texting has evolved to become one of the most prevalent and widely used forms of communication in the digital age.

1993: Introduction of SMSC by Nokia

In 1993, texting continued to gain traction and evolve as a means of communication. Although it was still in its early stages, several significant developments took place during this year.

One notable milestone was the introduction of the Short Message Service Center (SMSC) by Nokia, which allowed mobile network operators to store and forward text messages. This technological advancement significantly improved the reliability and efficiency of text messaging.

Additionally, the popularity of texting grew as mobile phone usage increased and more users embraced the convenience of sending short text-based messages. While texting was still a relatively new concept, its potential for widespread adoption became evident during this period, laying the foundation for the explosive growth and ubiquitous use of texting in the years to come.

1995: Introduction of T9 technology

T9 technology are also known as Text on 9 keys. It was developed by Tegic Communications and aimed to simplify text entry on mobile phones with numeric keypads. Before T9, users had to press the number key multiple times to cycle through the letters associated with that key.

T9 revolutionized text messaging by introducing a predictive text input system. With T9, users only needed to press each key once to enter a word. The system utilized a built-in dictionary and advanced algorithms to predict the intended word based on the combination of key presses.

Users could easily type messages by pressing the corresponding keys without worrying about multiple keypresses per character.

T9 technology became immensely popular and was widely implemented in mobile phones, enabling faster and more efficient text input for users around the world.

1997: Introduction of 9000i Communicator

The 9000i Communicator, was a significant milestone in mobile communication technology. Developed by Nokia, it was one of the first devices to combine the functionality of a mobile phone and a personal digital assistant (PDA) into a single device. The 9000i Communicator featured a full QWERTY keyboard, a monochrome display, and built-in applications like email, web browsing, and word processing.

With its advanced features and capabilities, the 9000i Communicator paved the way for modern smartphones. It offered users the convenience of mobile communication along with productivity tools, setting a precedent for the integration of communication and computing in portable devices.

The 9000i Communicator was highly regarded as a groundbreaking device that contributed to the evolution of mobile technology, shaping the future of smartphones as we know them today.

The rise in popularity of text messaging

1999: Cross network also known as inter-carrier messaging became universal

This development allowed users to exchange text messages between different mobile networks, enabling communication across various service providers. Prior to this, text messaging was often limited to within-network communication, meaning messages could only be sent and received within the same mobile network.

The introduction of cross-network texting was a significant step forward in enhancing the convenience and reach of text messaging. It facilitated communication between individuals using different mobile carriers, enabling wider connectivity and fostering greater accessibility to text-based communication.

This advancement played a vital role in popularizing text messaging as a universally adopted means of communication, contributing to its rapid growth and eventual integration into our daily lives.

2000: Texting gained prominence as a preferred mode of communication

During this period, text messaging became more accessible to a broader range of mobile phone users, as mobile devices with built-in keyboards and improved text entry capabilities became increasingly prevalent.

The simplicity and convenience of sending text messages, coupled with the widespread availability of mobile phones, contributed to the surge in texting's popularity.

As a result, text messaging became a common method for staying connected, exchanging brief messages, and coordinating plans among individuals, marking a notable milestone in the evolution of communication technology.

2001: Text messaging became a mainstream form of communication

The popularity of texting grew exponentially as mobile phone ownership became more widespread, and mobile devices became more affordable and feature rich. The convenience and efficiency of sending short, written messages made texting an appealing choice for quick and direct communication.

During this period, texting evolved beyond a simple communication tool, with the introduction of features such as multimedia messaging (MMS) that allowed users to send images, videos, and other media alongside text. This expansion in capabilities further fueled the adoption of texting as a versatile means of expression and sharing.

2002: Texting experienced significant growth

Text messaging became increasingly popular among mobile phone users as it offered a convenient and efficient way to stay connected.

During this period, text messaging services became more advanced, with improved user interfaces and enhanced features. Mobile phones started to incorporate predictive text input, allowing for faster and more accurate typing. Additionally, mobile carriers expanded their text messaging plans and offered competitive pricing, making it more affordable for users to send and receive text messages.

The development and growth of texting

2003-2010: Texting underwent notable developments

During this period, text messaging became increasingly integrated into people's daily lives, evolving into a primary form of communication.

In terms of technology, mobile phones continued to advance, offering more user-friendly interfaces and improved text entry methods. QWERTY keyboards and touchscreen devices became common, enabling faster and more accurate typing for text messages.

As texting became more widespread, it influenced the way people communicated. Texting conventions further developed, with the use of emojis, emoticons, and text-based shorthand becoming prevalent. The rise of SMS-based services, such as text-based voting and information services, added to the versatility and utility of texting.

2003: Emergence of various SMS based services

SMS services like news updates, weather forecasts, horoscopes, or participate in SMS-based contests and polls were introduced.

SMS messaging took on a new role when the TV show American Idol pioneered the concept of "text to vote." Viewers were able to support their favorite singer by sending their vote through a text message to a number displayed on-screen.

Texting also saw the rise of SMS language, characterized by abbreviations and shorthand expressions. Common examples included "lol" (laugh out loud), "brb" (be right back), and "omg" (oh my god). Emoticons such as :-) and :-( were used to express emotions visually.

2006: Some significant developments in mobile communication took place like predictive text and texting in landlines

Instant messaging (IM) services started becoming available on mobile phones. Applications like BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) gained popularity, enabling users to engage in real-time chat conversations with other mobile users.

The birth of Twitter brought about a significant development in the realm of communication. Inspired by Hillebrand, the inventor of SMS messaging, Twitter implemented a 140-character limit for tweets. When combined with the 20-character limit for usernames, the total of 160 characters mirrored the original character limit for text messages.

2007: Texting became the most popular data service provider

Texting emerged as the most popular mobile data service globally, with 2.4 billion out of 3.3 billion mobile phone users utilizing it. This marked the first instance where the number of text messages sent surpassed the number of phone calls made. In the same year, Apple introduced the inaugural iPhone model, revolutionizing the mobile phone industry.

2008: Texting was used during presidential election bid

The United Way introduced the pioneering "text to donate" campaign, which gained prominence during Super Bowl XLII. Concurrently, during the same year, Barack Obama leveraged a "text to donate campaign" to support his presidential election bid. Additionally, he employed SMS software to send mass text messages, aiding the growth of his grassroots campaign.

2010: Texting became fundamental aspect of communication

By 2010, text messaging had become an established norm in numerous societies, firmly ingrained in daily communication practices. The term "texting" had gained such widespread usage that it found its place in the dictionary that year. This was hardly surprising considering the staggering global volume of text messages, which reached 6.1 trillion, averaging around 1,000 messages per person. The sheer magnitude of these figures reflected the ubiquity and popularity of text messaging as a preferred means of exchanging information and staying connected.

Socially, texting played a significant role in dating, friendships, and professional interactions. It became a common method for staying connected, making plans, and sharing brief messages. Texting also became a platform for exchanging multimedia content, with the introduction of picture messaging (MMS).

By the end of this period, texting had firmly established itself as a fundamental aspect of communication, paving the way for future advancements in mobile messaging and shaping the way people interacted and connected with one another.

The evolution of texting in the modern era

2012: Text messaging fell under the jurisdiction of the TCPA

In response to the increasing prevalence of business texting, the Federal Communications Commission implemented a rule change in 2012. This change stipulated that business text messages are now subject to regulations governed by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. According to this law, businesses are required to obtain consent from their customers before initiating any text message communications.

Learn more about TCPA Compliance

2013: The rise of instant messaging apps

Internet-based mobile messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage, and Viber achieved a level of popularity and message volume comparable to SMS messaging. These apps allowed users to send text messages, photos, videos, and voice messages over the internet, bypassing traditional SMS messaging.

Many mobile carriers started offering unlimited texting plans in 2013. This allowed users to send and receive an unlimited number of text messages without incurring additional charges.

2017: Carriers started to officially distinguish P2P and A2P traffic

In 2017, telecommunication industry group CTIA released an updated version of its Messaging Best Practices and Guidelines, formally establishing a differentiation between P2P (person-to-person) and A2P (application-to-person) messaging traffic.

2019: Expanded definition of A2P traffic

In a subsequent update, the CTIA clarified the definition of A2P traffic, now encompassing any "business, organization, or entity" engaging with consumers via text. This expansion included entities like schools and political organizations, which were not previously classified as A2P messengers.

2019-2021: Introduction of A2P 10DLC regulations

This clarification was crucial as changes were on the horizon for A2P messaging. Over the next two years, carriers implemented a series of regulations known as A2P 10DLC (Application-to-Person 10-Digit Long Codes).

These regulations aimed to combat spam, enhance customer experience, and ensure message deliverability for businesses. Organizations using standard 10-digit long code numbers to send texts to customers were required to register with carriers by September 31, 2021.

Consequently, local 10-digit numbers have become the standard for business texting, capable of supporting high-volume business text messaging.

Throughout these changes, businesses gradually discovered and harnessed a new channel for engagement, benefiting not only the businesses themselves but also consumers. Today, 85% of consumers prefer mobile messages over calls or emails, marking a significant shift since the inception of A2P messaging.

The Promising Future of Text Messaging

Text messaging has a promising future as it continues to evolve and shape the way we communicate. With the widespread use of smartphones and the convenience of instant messaging, text messaging has become an integral part of our daily lives.

The future holds exciting possibilities, including enhanced multimedia capabilities, improved encryption for secure conversations, and seamless integration with other communication platforms.

Moreover, the rise of artificial intelligence and chatbots will further enhance the efficiency and personalization of text-based conversations. As technology advances, text messaging is poised to become even more versatile, efficient, and indispensable in fostering connections and facilitating communication.

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