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SMS celebrates 30 years

and reinvents itself as the leading communication method in the professional communication sector

SMS text messages (short message service) celebrate their 30th anniversary, going from being the main communication channel in conversations between individuals to one of the most used methods for communication in the professional sector, which stands out in the mass trade business of products.

The history of SMS begins in 1984, with the Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen who was already working on the idea of creating a messaging system for mobile networks. In addition, at that time different countries were studying how to achieve a global system for mobile communications (GSM).

Subsequently, the German engineer Friedhelm Hillebrand defined what this messaging service would be like, establishing 160 characters as the maximum. But the first SMS as such takes place when the British programmer Neil Papworth sends a 15-character Christmas greeting message to Richard Jarvis, a Vodafone executive, who received it on his Orbitel 901 phone, in December 1992.

Thus, it was the Nokia company that a year later introduced a distinctive sound to its phones to signal received messages and made it fashionable to send messages from individual to individual. However, at first messages could only be sent between phones belonging to the same telephone operator, until interconnectivity between operators was made possible in 1999, allowing the use of different networks with the GSM standard.

Over the years, SMS messages have entered the daily life of everyone who uses a mobile phone, becoming a common method of communication. In Spain, the maximum peak of SMS sent was reached in 2006, adding the historical figure of 10,000 million SMS, as recorded by the National Competition Market Commission (CNMC). However, today, with the appearance of instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Messenger, the use of SMS has declined significantly.

Faced with this situation, SMS have found their place in communication, becoming one of the most used methods for transmitting information in professional fields, that is, the messages that organizations send to individuals. In fact, the data collected by the CNMC shows that in 2020 organizations sent 4,300 million SMS, which represents 86 percent of the messages received by Spaniards.

In this sense, within the field of professional communication, SMS are leaders as an informative method in the business of wholesale or ‘retail’ trade. This sector, which includes companies specialized in the mass marketing of products to a large number of customers, sent 16.48 percent of SMS in 2022, according to data from the communication services company SMSpubli.

Next, the health sector was the second professional field that sent the most SMS (10.64%) and, in third place, the education sector stands out, which together 6.4 percent of the SMS sent in 2022 in Spain.

When SMS began to prevail as a common form of communication, the educational sector saw more disadvantages than advantages in these messages. The language was adapted with abbreviations in order not to exceed the maximum number of characters (160 in SMS), which caused disputes in case the spelling rules were not well assimilated by the students.

However, the instant messaging format has been irrevocably installed as a form of socialization and communication. Now, the educational sector is one of the sectors that uses SMS the most to contact students. In this regard, it is the universities that use these messages the most, with more than 2,000 shipments on average per month, according to SMSpubli.

As explained by the General Manager of Europe at SMSpubli, Laurent Buron, SMS “constitute a direct and instant channel for transmitting information of vital importance”, which makes it an effective contact method. Likewise, the SMSpubli data supports the effectiveness of the messages, since they have an opening rate of 95 percent in the first three minutes after sending.

Among the purposes of SMS in the educational sector, the most recurring utility is to report service updates, with 22 percent. These messages refer to last-minute notifications such as class cancellations or variations in the school calendar.

The most repeated utility in SMS after service updates is the appointment reminder, with 9 percent. These notifications notify about the date of future exams or specific activities. It is closely followed by the purpose of communicating notifications to staff, with 8 percent.

The SMS remain in operation after 30 years, although with a different purpose from that of its beginnings. Text messages have been reinvented aimed at companies looking for a new information occupation.

On the other hand, the evolution of SMS with the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard is gaining momentum. This is an agreement between the GSM Association and Google that took place in 2016, with which they developed this system, which works the same as messaging ‘apps’ and also allows the user to send photos, ‘gifts’ and audios using the service already integrated into your mobile. At the moment, RCS is available for Android phones.

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