The Role of SMS In Today's Tech-Driven World
Short message service or SMS has come a long way in setting the groundwork for modern instant messaging.
09:52 21 April 2021
However, with the introduction of instant messaging apps that enable users to send personalized messages, SMS is becoming an outdated tool used mainly for official communications.
Despite this, Statista saw an uptick in the number of text messages sent in the United States. From 1.5 billion in 2017, the number went up to 2.09 billion in 2019. Does this prove that SMS still has a place in this increasingly tech-driven world? Before we delve into that, let’s take a step back and re-learn how SMS technology works.
It was back in the 1980s that the concept of SMS was first conceived, with various sources pointing towards Hillebrand and Ghillebaert as pioneers of the technology. During the heyday of the Global System for Mobile Communications or GSM, most mobile phones can only receive voicemail notifications from networks. It was not until 1992 when 22-year-old Neil Papworth sent the first text message (“Merry Christmas”) from his personal computer to Richard Jarvis’s mobile phone in Newbury, England. The following year, Nokia started manufacturing GSM phones with SMS functionality.
As wireless connections became increasingly sophisticated and SMS started to break ground, handsets were fitted with keypads and keyboards which allowed users to type and send messages faster. However, it was in 1999 when cross-network texts became the flashpoint for global SMS usage. By 2002, users had already sent 250 billion messages within a single year.
Over the years, SMS technology has seen various developments, from allowing audiences to participate in TV shows to sending and receiving multimedia content through MMS. We may be enjoying the ease and features that apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger can provide right now, but the technology behind SMS remains an important part of daily life.
How SMS Works
Mobile phones are basically connected to a network of cellular towers and SMS centers which facilitate the exchange of data among different mobile devices. When you send a text message, it goes through a control channel and towards the closest cell tower, which then transmits the message to an SMS center. From there, the message is sent to the person receiving your text (along with a timestamp, origin, and other details) through the tower closest to them. It’s this same network that brings people together and makes instantaneous communication possible. However, we are seeing this system make way for something different.
Important developments that are disrupting SMS
By 2004 when Facebook was first launched, SMS would become a popular means to communicate. In fact, message volumes kept increasing for the latter half of the 2000s. With the rise of instant messaging apps, users can enjoy benefits they wouldn’t normally get from SMS. Social media platforms have integrated instant messaging features which allow users to send and receive videos, images, and even file attachments. This is something SMS technology could not do since it could accommodate a maximum of 140 bytes per message.
Not only that, messaging apps are more cost-effective. Compared with SMS which users will only need to subscribe to an existing data plan in order to send almost a limitless amount of messages or media. Ever since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, the volume of messages relayed through rich communications services (or RCSs) has exponentially increased over the years. As of January 2021, WhatsApp has garnered over two billion monthly users.
Despite that, the growth of RCS has not signaled the death knell of SMS. In fact, SMS carriers have found ways to adapt to the changing landscape of communications technology.
How SMS continues to thrive
With messaging apps becoming more widespread, SMS technology continues to remain as an effective communication channel. For one, application-to-person (A2P) messaging allows companies to send automated text messages to individual recipients. If you receive a promotional text message about a concert or performance, you can bet that an A2P platform is behind it.
While A2P messaging is widely used in marketing, the technology has found a niche in other sectors such as healthcare and education. Patients can be notified about upcoming appointments and taking medication. Clinics and medical institutions can also use A2P to send updates on diagnostic results.
SMS can also help with improving cybersecurity. Two-factor authentication through SMS can act as a first line of defense against fraud, data theft, and other forms of cybercrime. By activating two-factor authentication, users must enter a code sent to their personal mobile numbers in order to access their online accounts. This helps prevent illegal login attempts and immediately require users to change passwords, security questions, and other login information.
Apart from these, there are businesses that use SMS as part of their omnichannel strategies. Using APIs and platforms that allow them to send SMS online, the technology remains effective when it comes to audience outreach.
Throughout its 30-year history, SMS continues to be a part of our lives. Judging from recent developments in communications technology, we can be sure of the possibility that SMS won’t wither away anytime soon.