The first text message was sent 20 years ago today

Ian Hardy

December 3, 2012 7:22am

The first text message was sent 20 years ago today. Neil Papworth who at the time was working for a company called Sema Group Telecoms. According to Papworth’s website he notes that “Since mobile phones didn’t yet have keyboards, I typed the message out on a PC to a Orbitel 901 handset. It read, ‘Merry Christmas,’ and I sent it to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone, who was enjoying his office Christmas party at the time.”

Since this momentous date texting has become one of the major forms of communication. Billions of LOL, OMG, TTYL’s have been sent and have also spawned several companies to produce texting apps such as WhatsApp, iMessage, Viber, BBM, Kik, and Facebook Messenger. According to a report by Informa Telecoms & Media they are expecting the total number of person-to-person texts to hit 6.7 trillion by the end of this year. In addition, Informa is also forecasting the trend to continue into 2016 where the total number of texts will reach 9.4 trillion, plus generate $127 billion (USD) in global revenues.

As for us Canadians, texting has certainly increased over the past 20 years. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) reported that in 2011 Canadians sent a total of 78 billion text messages and this year we could top 100 billion texts.

  • menodumb

    And the response was ;

    sfgsd dhs dsfg gggggge czccccccccc

    • SAM

      GET THE NOTE!!!!!!!! FROM SAMMIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      OOHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OOOHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Vengefulspirit99

    and so began the texting zombies

  • Dan

    They probably cost less to send 20 years ago…

  • skazzers

    It was probably free 20 years ago.

  • Mellowie

    <3 txting

  • Zahin

    Feeling modern

  • Sam

    This people can sue Apple

  • Sam

    Hope apple will not sue them and say we are the first one sent the first message

  • Crunk

    Wait, the average person is paying 1.35 cents per text? Man am I getting ripped off!

    • EvanKr

      Probably an average of people paying 15 cents/text on older plans, and people getting it for free on unlimited plans. I doubt that’s a median.

  • ToniCipriani

    Hooray for two decades of Canadian carriers ripping us off… with INCOMING text charges!

  • EvanKr

    SMS is already dying, 20 years from how it’ll only be found in technology museums. I’ve never been a fan because of its character limit, so I’m glad that 3rd party messengers like WhatsApp are gaining traction.

    The only problem is that we need to unify a standard, and get everybody on board one cross platform service that’s included with every device sold. I’m still amazed that we’re even using this 20 year old technology today.

    • ToniCipriani

      Not everyone has data or wants a smartphone.

    • EvanK


      Fair enough, but feature phone market share ain’t growing, and the only thing that data plan adoption is doing is going up. Feature phones will eventually be phased out, smartphones will become the norm, and data will be standard on ALL plans.

  • Crunk

    EvanKr, SMS is that standard. Maybe Facebook will take over, but for now it is the real deal.

  • phreezerburn

    RIM had the first ever two way pager and they use an iPhone for the picture. I’d expect such from The Verge or Engadget.

  • Amos

    Good thing Apple couldn’t sue it into oblivion. 20 years is way too long for software patents.

  • Wait for it…

    It would have been much more amusing if he sent the text message to some unsuspecting customer who would then believe their flip phone was possessed.

  • Olerius

    If text messaging wasn’t around previously, how were the original phones capable of importing/viewing the message? Even early phones were designed to be able to display/access a message somehow, but 20 years ago, most phones didn’t have a (black & white) TFT or LCD display. Would it have scrolled across the digital readout of an old StarTac display like some cheap convenience store?

    • MrHomz

      Good point. My earliest text was in 1997 with an old Nokia 6110. I could receive text messages but could not send them. The StarTac was the earliest phone I ever remembered with a dot matrix display and even it was mid 90’s.