The Death of the SMS?

sms phone with heartbeat pulse

The SMS is in decline; according to research published by COMREG, the usage of SMS in Ireland has dropped a massive 44% between the years 2011 to 2015. From 3 billion texts sent in Q1 2011 to 1.7 billion texts sent in Q1 2015.

In this post we examine the history of the SMS, the main challenges that it faces and whether or not the technology has a future at all.

irish sms volume q1 2011 to q1 2015 down 44%

History of the SMS

 

Text messages are almost 23 years old! Standing for ‘Short Message Service’, the first SMS was sent on Dec 3rd, 1992 and simply read “Merry Christmas”. Originally limited to 160 character messages, Nokia were the first phone manufacturer to release a phone capable of sending texts in 1993.

"Vodafone in the UK launched text messaging in 1994. At that time texts were completely free but could be sent only to people on the same network. The medium gained instant popularity among students, who soon began shortening words into "text speak."
telegraph.co.uk

Up until 1999 mobile users were only able to send texts to users within the same network, this all changed in 1999 and by 2000 text messaging was becoming incredibly popular. By early 2001, over one billion texts were being sent per month in the UK.

The Rise of OTT Messaging

 

According to the International Telecommunications Union, the use of SMS peaked in 2010, with over 200,000 texts being sent per minute.

2010: The International Telecommunications Union reports that 200,000 text messages are sent every minute. 6.1 trillion texts are sent worldwide over the entire year.
theweek.com

However, SMS usage is now in decline in many countries. Instead people are opting to send text messages through ‘Over The Top’ (OTT) services instead. These are different from SMS in that the text is delivered through the Internet rather than through a mobile network via GSM.

OTT messaging clients such as WhatsApp and Viber are used to send instant messages (IM). These apps are disrupting how we text one another and contributing to the decline of the SMS.

It’s not that we aren’t texting as much, in reality we are texting even more, it’s just the medium of transmission that is shifting.

According to the latest research from Ipsos MRBI, the use of social messaging is prevalent amongst the Irish public. In their Social Messaging Quarterly Survey May 2015, Ipsos identify Skype, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp as the most popular messaging services in Ireland. An impressive 43% of Irish adults have accounts with Skype and Facebook Messenger, while 37% are WhatsApp account owners.

  graphic listing most popular instant messaging accounts in ireland 2015

Source: Ipsos MRBI

A large reason for the rise in OTT messaging is down to the cost advantages that this service often offers. With a WiFi connection text messages can now be sent for free. With free public WiFi becoming increasingly common, mobile users can avail of data messaging services without having to use any of the data on their mobile plans.

Additionally, with many mobile providers offering unlimited data plans, and the average instant message only being 10KB in size, even without WiFi most consumers will find data messaging to be a cheaper option.

The Future of SMS?

 

Although it may appear that the humble SMS is in terminal decline, there are still signs that there is a future for the technology:

  • Person to Person (P2P) SMS use continues to drop and is becoming less and less important as a revenue stream for mobile carriers.
  • However, Application to Person (A2P) volumes are predicted to continue to rise over the next few years, generating far more revenue for mobile carriers than data messaging traffic.
"the next few years “will mark a golden age for A2P SMS,” with the number of worldwide A2P messages increasing from 1.4 trillion in 2013 to 2.19 trillion by 2018"
research.gigacom.com

You’ve probably received an A2P text before but never really thought about it. A2P messages are often used by banks, hospitals and airlines to send alerts, reminders and other pertinent information to consumers.

  • The advantage of A2P SMS messages, and a large reason why they’re not going away anytime soon is that they don’t require a user to have any specific app installed.

For example, WhatsApp messages can only be sent to people that also have WhatsApp installed on their phone. SMS on the other hand can be sent to anyone with a mobile phone.

So, while P2P SMS messaging is in decline, and likely to continue that way, SMS serves as an ideal platform for A2P messaging. This means that, for the moment anyway, the SMS is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

 

Sources: Ipsos MRBI, The Week, Telegraph.co.uk, Gigacom Research