[telecom] Now 4 billion people know the joy of txt

Now 4 billion people know the joy of txt

The humble SMS is 20 years old? and a far more important invention than the flashier inventions that have followed it

John Naughton The Observer

5 May 2012

Here's a question: what's bigger and far more important than Facebook? Hint: it's very low-tech and doesn't need a smartphone or even an internet connection. And this year marks its 20th birthday, which means that in internet time it's 140 years old. Oh, and it doesn't involve LOLcats either.

Got it yet? It's SMS - text messaging to you and me. Or txt msng, if you prefer. Two-thirds of the world's population - that's over 4 billion people - have access to it because that's the number of people who have mobile phones, and even the cheapest, clunkiest handset can send SMS messages. It's had a much bigger impact on people's lives than anything dreamed up in Silicon Valley.

Interestingly, Silicon Valley played almost no role in it. SMS emerged on our side of the Atlantic and was the brainchild of the kind of European intergovernmental initiative that drives Ukip nuts. The first mobile phones were analogue devices, and the market was bedevilled by incompatible technologies and protocols - rather like the early market in fixed-line telephony in the United States before the AT&T monopoly was established. But in 1982 a European telephony conference decided to tackle the problem. It set up the Groupe Spécial Mobile (GSM) committee and established a group of communications engineers in Paris.

Five years later, 13 European countries signed an agreement to develop and deploy a common mobile telephone system across Europe. The result was GSM - a unified, open, standard-based mobile network larger than that in the United States. The first GSM call was made by the Finnish prime minister in 1991, and the first GSM handsets were approved for sale in May 1992.


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