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Wednesday, 04 August 2010 13:22

Once upon a time, mobile phones could not send SMS


According to self-styled "SMS expert" Sheri Wells of US based SMS Media Group, the GSM short-messaging technology is this week celebrating its 25th anniversary. The significant anniversary in Australia however is early April 2000, when Australia's mobile operators finally allowed messages to be delivered between their networks.

"The standardisation of SMS was developed in 1985 by a collaborated effort between Germany and France. SMS was created by Friedhelm Hillebrand, Bernard Ghillebaert, and Oculy Silaban," Wells writes.

That event however went largely un-noticed outside the inner circles of the world's cellular industry. Seven more years were to pass before the first SMS message, in the real world, was sent.

According to Wells, "The first text message (Happy Christmas) was sent in on December 3, 1992 over the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom from Neil Papworth of Sema Group from an R&D lab using a personal computer to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone."

In Australia, I reported in Exchange the first SMS service being launched by Telstra on its GSM network on 25 July 1994. However it was not a user-to-user messaging service, but a service under which Telstra operators received incoming messages, transcribed these and sent them to the user's phone as an SMS message. It went by the name 'Mobilenet Memo'.

Almost three years went by before Telstra allowed its mobile customers to send SMS to each other, by which time Vodafone was already offering the service.

Telstra completely missed the potential market, suggesting the main use of the facility would be for non-phone devices that could communicate over the GSM network. One example shown was a car-mounted unit that could send a message if the car was stolen or broken into.


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What really held SMS back in Australia in the early days was the fact that messages could not be sent between networks, despite the clear revenue potential. In late 1999, Exchange said that a new report on mobile telephony from the ITU "presents a powerful argument for inter-network short message services - currently not available in Australia because of opposition from one of the three carriers." The ITU report claimed: "in the Nordic countries, SMS now contributes around 20 percent of mobile revenue."

And Australian carriers would have done well to heed the words or Henrik Palsson, the head of Ericsson's Consumer Lab market research unit. He said the company's research had shown that the "killer app" for mobile phones in the generation Y market could be SMS: "teenage users prefer the more cryptic option of short messages on cellphone screens to talking."

Finally, in April 2000, and with great fanfare, Australia's three mobile operators turned on inter-carrier SMS. Atug gave vent to the frustration that had been building for years. "The long-awaited announcement by Optus, Telstra and Vodafone that they are to provide intercarrier mobile short messaging service across their networks, is most welcome...At last the concept of any-to-any connectivity, the cornerstone of telecommunications law in Australia, has reached the messaging environment. Why this agreement has taken eight years to reach is anybody's guess...Global interworking of the short messaging service no doubt forced Australian carriers to co-operate."

Atug went to hope for more, saying: "this new and long-overdue atmosphere of co-operation may well lead to the much sought after inter-carrier roaming between domestic carriers, where a customer can use an alternative network when theirs does not provide coverage to the particular location." As I predicted, correctly, at the time "not much chance of that."


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