SMS text messaging and what could have been

For quite some time now, I have been wondering about the popularity of SMS text messaging. Since its development by the GSM working group in the mid 80s and the initial launch to the generic public when the first SMS message was sent in 1993, SMS text messaging became the most widely used form of data communication in the world, with about 2 and a half billion users (that’s about half of the world’s population).¬†How is it possible that such a limited technology could have become this widespread?

There are of course some obvious advantages to the basic application of text messaging, but there are also a lot of technical limitations in the SMS protocol as well as some strange implementations by telecom operators and handset manufacturers, that very much limit the usability for the users. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Advantages of SMS text messaging:

  • Very easy to explain
    Even the most technophobic cell phone user is able to grab the idea of text messaging. The message you enter on one handset will appear on the display of the receiving handset. The only thing you need is the receiving party’s phone number. There is no need to know anything else, such as an alternative address other than the cell phone number, or knowing the capabillities of the receiving handset or the services of the telecom operator.
  • 100% installed base of handsets
    SMS is supported on all GSM handsets (the only cell phone standard in Europe, and the dominant standard worldwide), and nowadays also on handsets of competing technologies. SMS sending and receiving is supported by all mobile carriers and offered trough all mobile phone plans. Everybody who owns a mobile phone is able to send and receive text messages. No need for additional devices, no need for special subsciptions.
  • No action required to receive messages
    An SMS text message will always appear automatically on the handset’s display. There is no need to “request” for incoming messages. When the phone was off during the initial transmission of the message, it will be delivered within minutes after the phone is turned back on.

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