In 1992, Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old software programmer from the UK, sent the first ever text message from a computer to his colleague Richard Jarvis.
Neil had been working as a developer and test engineer to create a Short Message Service (SMS) for his client, Vodafone. That very first text, sent on the 3rd December 1992, simply said, “Merry Christmas.”
One year later in 1993, Nokia introduced an SMS feature with a distinctive ‘beep’ to signal an incoming message.
At first, text messages had a 160-character limit. Early adopters got round this by inventing ‘txt spk’, such as LOL (laughing out loud) and emoticons – symbols made from keyboard characters to show emotions. These would later inspire the creation of the first emojis (characters symbolising emotions and the ideas of things).
In 1999, seven years after Neil’s first SMS message, texts could finally be exchanged on multiple networks, propelling them to greater popularity than ever before.
Today, Merry Christmas messages are sent by millions all over the world using texts, videos and emojis. Marking the 26th anniversary since the first text, Neil has imagined a more modern version of his 1992 Christmas message, this time using emojis.
Neil said: “In 1992, I had no idea just how popular texting would become, and that this would give rise to emojis and messaging apps used by millions. I only recently told my children that I sent that first text. Looking back with hindsight, it’s clearer to see that the Christmas message I sent was a pivotal moment in mobile history.”
But “texting” goes back further than that. Wikipedia gives an early account.
The electrical telegraph systems, developed in the early 19th century, used simple electrical signals to send text messages. In the late 19th century, the wireless telegraphy was developed using radio waves.
In 1933, the German Reichspost (Reich postal service) introduced the first “telex” service.
The University of Hawaii began using radio to send digital information as early as 1971, using ALOHAnet. Friedhelm Hillebrand conceptualised SMS in 1984 while working for Deutsche Telekom. Sitting at a typewriter at home, Hillebrand typed out random sentences and counted every letter, number, punctuation, and space. Almost every time, the messages contained fewer than 160 characters, thus giving the basis for the limit one could type via text messaging. With Bernard Ghillebaert of France Télécom, he developed a proposal for the GSM (Groupe Spécial Mobile) meeting in February 1985 in Oslo.
The first technical solution evolved in a GSM subgroup under the leadership of Finn Trosby. It was further developed under the leadership of Kevin Holley and Ian Harris .SMS forms an integral part of SS7 (Signalling System No. 7).[ Under SS7, it is a “state” with a 160 character data, coded in the ITU-T “T.56” text format, that has a “sequence lead in” to determine different language codes, and may have special character codes that permits, for example, sending simple graphs as text.
This was part of ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) and since GSM is based on this, made its way to the mobile phone. Messages could be sent and received on ISDN phones, and these can send SMS to any GSM phone. The possibility of doing something is one thing, implementing it another, but systems existed from 1988 that sent SMS messages to mobile phones.