E.161, the most common mobile keypad alphabet layout.

SMS (Short Message Service) is a text messaging service component of most telephone, World Wide Web, and mobile device systems.[1] It uses standardized communication protocols to enable mobile devices to exchange short text messages. An intermediary service can facilitate a text-to-voice conversion to be sent to landlines.[2] SMS was the most widely used data application, with an estimated 3.5 billion active users, or about 80% of all mobile subscribers, at the end of 2010.[1]

SMS, as used on modern devices, originated from radio telegraphy in radio memo pagers that used standardized phone protocols. These were defined in 1985 as part of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) series of standards.[3] The protocols allowed users to send and receive messages of up to 160 alpha-numeric characters to and from GSM mobiles. Although most SMS messages are mobile-to-mobile text messages, support for the service has expanded to include other mobile technologies, such as ANSI CDMA networks and Digital AMPS.[4]

SMS is also employed in mobile marketing, a type of direct marketing.[5] According to one market research report, as of 2014, the global SMS messaging business was estimated to be worth over $100 billion, accounting for almost 50 percent of all the revenue generated by mobile messaging.[6]


Initial concept

SMS messages sent monthly in the United States (in billions)

Adding text messaging functionality to mobile devices began in the early 1980s. The first action plan of the CEPT Group GSM was approved in December 1982, requesting that, "The services and facilities offered in the public switched telephone networks and public data networks ... should be available in the mobile system."[7] This plan included the exchange of text messages either directly between mobile stations, or transmitted via message handling systems in use at that time.[8]

The SMS concept was developed in the Franco-German GSM cooperation in 1984 by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert.[9] The GSM is optimized for telephony, since this was identified as its main application. The key idea for SMS was to use this telephone-optimized system, and to transport messages on the signalling paths needed to control the telephone traffic during periods when no signalling traffic existed. In this way, unused resources in the system could be used to transport messages at minimal cost. However, it was necessary to limit the length of the messages to 128 bytes (later improved to 160 seven-bit characters) so that the messages could fit into the existing signalling formats. Based on his personal observations and on analysis of the typical lengths of postcard and Telex messages, Hillebrand argued that 160 characters was sufficient to express most messages succinctly.[10]

SMS could be implemented in every mobile station by updating its software. Hence, a large base of SMS-capable terminals and networks existed when people began to use SMS.[11] A new network element required was a specialized short message service centre, and enhancements were required to the radio capacity and network transport infrastructure to accommodate growing SMS traffic.[citation needed]

Early development

The technical development of SMS was a multinational collaboration supporting the framework of standards bodies. Through these organizations the technology was made freely available to the whole world.[12]

The first proposal which initiated the development of SMS was made by a contribution of Germany and France into the GSM group meeting in February 1985 in Oslo.[13] This proposal was further elaborated in GSM subgroup WP1 Services (Chairman Martine Alvernhe, France Telecom) based on a contribution from Germany. There were also initial discussions in the subgroup WP3 network aspects chaired by Jan Audestad (Telenor). The result was approved by the main GSM group in a June '85 document which was distributed to industry.[14] The input documents on SMS had been prepared by Friedhelm Hillebrand (Deutsche Telekom) with contributions from Bernard Ghillebaert (France Télécom). The definition that Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert brought into GSM called for the provision of a message transmission service of alphanumeric messages to mobile users "with acknowledgement capabilities". The last three words transformed SMS into something much more useful than the prevailing messaging paging that some in GSM might have had in mind.[15]

SMS was considered in the main GSM group as a possible service for the new digital cellular system. In GSM document "Services and Facilities to be provided in the GSM System,"[3] both mobile-originated and mobile-terminated short messages appear on the table of GSM teleservices.[citation needed]

The discussions on the GSM services were concluded in the recommendation GSM 02.03 "TeleServices supported by a GSM PLMN."[16] Here a rudimentary description of the three services was given:

  1. Short message Mobile Terminated (SMS-MT)/ Point-to-Point: the ability of a network to transmit a Short Message to a mobile phone. The message can be sent by phone or by a software application.
  2. Short message Mobile Originated (SMS-MO)/ Point-to-Point: the ability of a network to transmit a Short Message sent by a mobile phone. The message can be sent to a phone or to a software application.
  3. Short message Cell Broadcast.[citation needed]

The material elaborated in GSM and its WP1 subgroup was handed over in Spring 1987 to a new GSM body called IDEG (the Implementation of Data and Telematic Services Experts Group), which had its kickoff in May 1987 under the chairmanship of Friedhelm Hillebrand (German Telecom). The technical standard known today was largely created by IDEG (later WP4) as the two recommendations GSM 03.40 (the two point-to-point services merged) and GSM 03.41 (cell broadcast).[citation needed]

WP4 created a Drafting Group Message Handling (DGMH), which was responsible for the specification of SMS. Finn Trosby of Telenor chaired the draft group through its first 3 years, in which the design of SMS was established. DGMH had five to eight participants, and Finn Trosby mentions as major contributors Kevin Holley, Eija Altonen, Didier Luizard and Alan Cox. The first action plan[17] mentions for the first time the Technical Specification 03.40 "Technical Realisation of the Short Message Service". Responsible editor was Finn Trosby. The first and very rudimentary draft of the technical specification was completed in November 1987.[18] However, drafts useful for the manufacturers followed at a later stage in the period. A comprehensive description of the work in this period is given in.[19]

The work on the draft specification continued in the following few years, where Kevin Holley of Cellnet (now Telefónica O2 UK) played a leading role. Besides the completion of the main specification GSM 03.40, the detailed protocol specifications on the system interfaces also needed to be completed.[citation needed]

Support in other architectures

The Mobile Application Part (MAP) of the SS7 protocol included support for the transport of Short Messages through the Core Network from its inception.[20] MAP Phase 2 expanded support for SMS by introducing a separate operation code for Mobile Terminated Short Message transport.[21] Since Phase 2, there have been no changes to the Short Message operation packages in MAP, although other operation packages have been enhanced to support CAMEL SMS control.[citation needed]

From 3GPP Releases 99 and 4 onwards, CAMEL Phase 3 introduced the ability for the Intelligent Network (IN) to control aspects of the Mobile Originated Short Message Service,[22] while CAMEL Phase 4, as part of 3GPP Release 5 and onwards, provides the IN with the ability to control the Mobile Terminated service.[23] CAMEL allows the gsmSCP to block the submission (MO) or delivery (MT) of Short Messages, route messages to destinations other than that specified by the user, and perform real-time billing for the use of the service. Prior to standardized CAMEL control of the Short Message Service, IN control relied on switch vendor specific extensions to the Intelligent Network Application Part (INAP) of SS7.[citation needed]

Early implementations

The first SMS message[24] was sent over the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom on 3 December 1992, from Neil Papworth of Sema Group (now Mavenir Systems) using a personal computer to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone using an Orbitel 901 handset. The text of the message was "Merry Christmas."[25]

The first commercial deployment of a short message service center (SMSC) was by Aldiscon part of Logica (now part of Acision) with Telia (now TeliaSonera) in Sweden in 1993,[26] followed by Fleet Call (now Nextel)[27] in the US, Telenor in Norway[citation needed] and BT Cellnet (now O2 UK)[citation needed] later in 1993. All first installations of SMS gateways were for network notifications sent to mobile phones, usually to inform of voice mail messages.[citation needed]

The first commercially sold SMS service was offered to consumers, as a person-to-person text messaging service by Radiolinja (now part of Elisa) in Finland in 1993. Most early GSM mobile phone handsets did not support the ability to send SMS text messages, and Nokia was the only handset manufacturer whose total GSM phone line in 1993 supported user-sending of SMS text messages. According to Matti Makkonen, the inventor of SMS text messages, Nokia 2010, which was released in January 1994, was the first mobile phone to support composing SMSes easily.[28]

Initial growth was slow, with customers in 1995 sending on average only 0.4 messages per GSM customer per month.[29] One factor in the slow takeup 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.[citation needed] Initially, networks in the UK only allowed customers to send messages to other users on the same network, limiting the usefulness of the service. This restriction was lifted in 1999.[24]

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. By the end of 2000, the average number of messages reached 35 per user per month,[29] and on Christmas Day 2006, over 205 million messages were sent in the UK alone.[30]

Text messaging outside GSM

SMS was originally designed as part of GSM, but is now available on a wide range of networks, including 3G networks. However, not all text messaging systems use SMS, and some notable alternative implementations of the concept include J-Phone's SkyMail and NTT Docomo's Short Mail, both in Japan. Email messaging from phones, as popularized by NTT Docomo's i-mode and the RIM BlackBerry, also typically uses standard mail protocols such as SMTP over TCP/IP.[citation needed]

SMS today

In 2010, 6.1 trillion (6.1 × 1012) SMS text messages were sent.[31] This translates into an average of 193,000 SMS per second. SMS has become a huge commercial industry, earning $114.6 billion globally in 2010.[32] The global average price for an SMS message is US$0.11, while mobile networks charge each other interconnect fees of at least US$0.04 when connecting between different phone networks.[citation needed]

In 2015, the actual cost of sending an SMS in Australia was found to be $0.00016 per SMS.[33]

In 2014, Caktus Group developed the world's first SMS-based voter registration system in Libya. So far, more than 1.5 million people have registered using that system, providing Libyan voters with unprecedented access to the democratic process.[34]

While SMS is still a growing market, traditional SMS is becoming increasingly challenged by Internet Protocol-based messaging services such as Apple Inc.'s iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat (in China) and Line (in Japan), available on smart phones with data connections.[35] It has been reported that over 97% of smart phone owners use alternative messaging services at least once a day.[citation needed] However, in the U.S. these Internet-based services haven't caught on as much[timeframe?], and SMS continues to be highly popular there. One of the reasons is because the top three American carriers have offered free SMS with almost all phone bundles since 2010, a stark contrast to Europe where SMS costs have been pricey.[36]

Enterprise SMS-messaging, also known as application-to-peer messaging (A2P Messaging) or 2-way SMS, continue to grow steadily at a rate of 4% annually.[37] Enterprise SMS applications are primarily focused on CRM and delivering highly targeted service messages such as parcel-delivery alerts, real-time notification of credit/debit card purchase confirmations to protect against fraud, and appointment confirmations. Another primary source of growing A2P message volumes is two-step verification (alternatively referred to as 2-factor authentication) processes whereby users are delivered a one-time passcode over SMS and then are asked to enter that passcode online in order to verify their identity.[37]

SMS Enablement

SMS enablement allows individuals to send a SMS to a business phone number (traditional landline) and receive a SMS in return. Providing customers with the ability to text to a phone number allows organizations to offer new services that deliver value. Examples include chat bots, and text enabled customer service and call centers.[citation needed]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: SMS
Alemannisch: SMS
azərbaycanca: SMS
تۆرکجه: اس‌ام‌اس
Bân-lâm-gú: Kán-sìn
беларуская: SMS
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Паслуга кароткага паведамленьня
български: SMS
Boarisch: SMS
català: SMS
čeština: SMS
Cymraeg: Neges destun
dansk: SMS
eesti: SMS
Ελληνικά: Short Message Service
euskara: SMS
فارسی: پیامک
𐌲𐌿𐍄𐌹𐍃𐌺: 𐍃𐌼𐍃
Հայերեն: SMS
hrvatski: SMS
Bahasa Indonesia: Layanan pesan singkat
Ирон: SMS
íslenska: Smáskilaboð
italiano: SMS
עברית: מסרון
қазақша: SMS
Кыргызча: SMS
latviešu: Īsziņa
Lëtzebuergesch: Short Message Service
lumbaart: SMS
magyar: SMS
Bahasa Melayu: Sistem pesanan ringkas
Nederlands: Sms
norsk nynorsk: Tekstmeldingsteneste
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਐਸ.ਐਮ.ਐਸ.
Plattdüütsch: SMS
polski: SMS
русский: SMS
Simple English: SMS
Soomaaliga: SMS
српски / srpski: SMS
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: SMS
Basa Sunda: SMS
Türkçe: SMS
українська: Смс-повідомлення
Tiếng Việt: SMS
ייִדיש: SMS
粵語: 短訊
中文: 簡訊