Text messaging, or texting, refers to the exchange of brief written text messages between fixed-line phone or mobile phone and fixed or portable devices over a network. While the original term (see below) was derived from referring to messages sent using the Short Message Service (SMS) originated from Radio Telegraphy, it has since been extended to include messages containing image, video, and sound content (known as MMS messages). The sender of a text message is known as a texter, while the service itself has different colloquialisms depending on the region: it may simply be referred to as a text in North America, India, Australia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom, an SMS in most of Europe, and a TMS or SMS in the Middle East and Asia.
Text messages can be used to interact with automated systems such as ordering products and services for mobile phones or participating in contests. Advertisers and service providers use direct text marketing to notify mobile phone users about promotions, payment due dates and other notifications that can usually be sent by post, e-mail or voicemail.
In a straight and concise definition for the purposes of this English Language article, text messaging by phones or mobile phones should include all 26 letters of the alphabet and 10 numerals, i.e., alpha-numeric messages, or text, to be sent by texter or received by the textee.
Matti Makkonen has been referred to in different contexts as the “father of text messaging” but he rejects this epithet. “The SMS function is the result of extensive and open international cooperation, and GSM documents prove that it is based on the Franco-German proposal,” he says. The pager (often called a beeper) was a simple personal telecommunications device for short messages. with the small display allowed the subscriber to see the number of the caller trying to contact them. A one-way numeric pager could only receive a message consisting of a few digits, typically a phone number that the user was then requested to call. But by using this paging system that had become popular in the 1980’s Raina Fortini realized in principle, it could include some text as well by simply turning the “beeper” upside down. By employing this concept in 1989 Fortini sent what may well have been the first text message to a friend in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Over a years time this was their only means of communication and so they became very creative with the the numbers that were vowels upside down e.g. 1’s and zeros to phonetically express emotion along with actual words like “07734” which is of course “hello” upside down as any 4th grader with a calculator at that time knew. It was a classic case of necessity being the mother of this invention because both parties were financially broke at this time, they came to rely on this means of communication to the point of creating a healthy phonetical vocabulary of more than a dozen words. Another account of SMS messaging being used for the first time was on 3 December 1992, when Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old test engineer for Sema Group (now Airwide Solutions), used a personal computer to send the text message “Merry Christmas” via the Vodafone network to the phone of Richard Jarvis.
Standard SMS messaging uses 140 bytes per message, which translates to 160 characters of the English alphabet using 7-bit encoding or as few as 70 characters for languages using non-Latin alphabets using UTF-16 encoding. (The commonly cited limit of 140 characters is imposed by some services like Twitter that reserve 20 characters for non-message content, like addressing.) Initial growth of text messaging was slow, with customers in 1995 sending on average only 0.4 message per GSM customer per month. One factor in the slow take-up of SMS was that operators were slow to set up charging systems, especially for prepaid subscribers, and eliminate billing fraud, which was possible by changing SMSC settings on individual handsets to use the SMSCs of other operators. Over time, this issue was eliminated by switch-billing instead of billing at the SMSC and by new features within SMSCs to allow blocking of foreign mobile users sending messages through it.
SMS is available on a wide range of networks, including 3G networks. However, not all text messaging systems use SMS, and some notable alternate implementations of the concept include J-Phone’s SkyMail and NTT Docomo’s Short Mail, both in Japan. E-mail messaging from phones, as popularized by NTT Docomo’s i-mode and the RIM BlackBerry, also typically use standard mail protocols such as SMTP over TCP/IP.
Today, text messaging is the most widely used mobile data service, with 74% of all mobile phone users worldwide, or 2.4 billion out of 3.3 billion phone subscribers, at end of 2007 being active users of the Short Message Service. In countries such as Finland, Sweden and Norway, over 85% of the population use SMS. The European average is about 80%, and North America is rapidly catching up with over 60% active users of SMS by end of 2008. The largest average usage of the service by mobile phone subscribers is in the Philippines, with an average of 27 texts sent per day by subscriber.
Text messaging is most often used between private mobile phone users, as a substitute for voice calls in situations where voice communication is impossible or undesirable. In some regions, text messaging is significantly cheaper than placing a phone call to another mobile phone; elsewhere, text messaging is popular despite the negligible cost of voice calls.
Some text messages such as SMS can also be used for the remote controlling of appliances. It is widely used in domotics systems. Some amateurs have also built own systems to control (some of) their appliances via SMS.
A Flash SMS is a type of text message that appears directly on the main screen without user interaction and is not automatically stored in the inbox. It can be useful in cases such as an emergency (e.g. fire alarm) or confidentiality (e.g. one-time password).
Short message services are developing very rapidly throughout the world.
SMS is particularly popular in Europe, Asia (excluding Japan; see below), United States, Australia and New Zealand and is also gaining influence in Africa. Popularity has grown to a sufficient extent that the term texting (used as a verb meaning the act of mobile phone users sending short messages back and forth) has entered the common lexicon. Young Asians consider SMS as the most popular mobile phone application.
In China, SMS is very popular and has brought service providers significant profit (18 billion short messages were sent in 2001). It is a very influential and powerful tool in the Philippines, where the average user sends 10–12 text messages a day. The Philippines alone sends on the average 400 million text messages a day, or approximately 142 billion text messages sent a year, more than the annual average SMS volume of the countries in Europe, and even China and India. SMS is hugely popular in India, where youngsters often exchange lots of text messages, and companies provide alerts, infotainment, news, cricket scores updates, railway/airline booking, mobile billing, and banking services on SMS.
Texting became popular in the Philippines in 1998. In 2001, text messaging played an important role in deposing former Philippine president Joseph Estrada. Similarly, in 2008, text messaging played a primary role in the implication of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in an SMS sex scandal.
Short messages are particularly popular among young urbanites. In many markets, the service is comparatively cheap. For example, in Australia, a message typically costs between A$0.20 and $0.25 to send (some prepaid services charge $0.01 between their own phones), compared with a voice call, which costs somewhere between $0.40 and $2.00 per minute (commonly charged in half-minute blocks). Despite the low cost to the consumer, the service is enormously profitable to the service providers. At a typical length of only 190 bytes (including protocol overhead), more than 350 of these messages per minute can be transmitted at the same data rate as a usual voice call (9 kbit/s). There are also free SMS services available, which are often sponsored and allow sending SMS from a PC connected to the internet.
Mobile service providers in New Zealand, such as Vodafone and Telecom NZ, provide up to 2000 SMS messages for NZ$10 per month. Users on these plans send on average 1500 SMS messages every month.
Text messaging has become so popular that advertising agencies and advertisers are now jumping into the text messaging business. Services that provide bulk text message sending are also becoming a popular way for clubs, associations, and advertisers to reach a group of opt-in subscribers quickly.
Sexting is slang for the act of sending sexually explicit or suggestive content between mobile devices using SMS. A genre of texting, it contains either text, images, or video that is intended to be sexually arousing.
A portmanteau of sex and texting, sexting was reported as early as 2005 in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, constituting a trend in the creative use of SMS to excite another with alluring messages throughout the day.
Although sexting often takes place consensually between two people, it can also occur against the wishes of a person who is the subject of the content. A number of instances have been reported in which the recipients of sexting have shared the content of the messages with others, with less intimate intentions, such as to impress their friends or embarrass their sender. Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Hudgens, and Adrienne Bailon have been victims of such abuses of sexting.
A 2008 survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com suggested a trend of sexting and other seductive online content being readily shared between teens. One in five teen girls surveyed (22 percent)—and 11 percent of teen girls aged 13–16 years old—say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves. One-third (33 percent) of teen boys and one-quarter (25 percent) of teen girls say they were shown private nude or semi-nude images. According to the survey, sexually suggestive messages (text, e-mail, and instant messaging) were even more common than images, with 39 percent of teens having sent or posted such messages, and half of teens (50 percent) having received them.
Sexting becomes a legal issue when teens (under 18) are involved, because any nude photos they may send of themselves would put the recipients in possession of child pornography.
Consumer SMS should not be used for confidential communication. The contents of common SMS messages are known to the network operator’s systems and personnel. Therefore, consumer SMS is not an appropriate technology for secure communications.
To address this issue, many companies use an SMS gateway provider based on SS7 connectivity to route the messages. The advantage of this international termination model is the ability to route data directly through SS7, which gives the provider visibility of the complete path of the SMS. This means SMS messages can be sent directly to and from recipients without having to go through the SMS-C of other mobile operators. This approach reduces the number of mobile operators that handle the message; however, it should not be considered as an end-to-end secure communication, as the content of the message is exposed to the SMS gateway provider.
Failure rates without backward notification can be high between carriers (T-Mobile to Verizon is notorious in the US). International texting can be extremely unreliable depending on the country of origin, destination and respective carriers.