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Text Messaging Turns 20, As U.S. Mobile Industry Declines

As the text message turns 20 today, a spate of analyses across the Internet speculate on what tricks the mobile industry has up its sleeve in our text messaging future.

But instead of throwing out some pithy line about teenage girls and the speed of their thumbs, we feel like we should begin by pointing out a startling prediction in the CNN story. CNN actually speculates that text messaging might have reached its peak this year, meaning that all of us will be doing less text messaging in our future. This is based on recent data showing that for the first time ever, in the third quarter of this year there was a decline in both the total number of messages as well as the total messaging revenue in the market. Analysts start expecting decline when the penetration of a product or service reaches a certain point—in the case of text messaging, about 70-90 percent of the market, according to some estimates.

But a decline in the American market had to come eventually, considering it’s been two decades since the development of this global phenomenon that has changed the way the world communicates. It was on Dec. 3, 1992, that software engineer Neil Papworth sent a two word text to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis—the texting equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell making the first ever phone call to his assistant in 1876 by saying “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” That first text message from Papworth to Jarvis in the UK was one that probably will be repeated several billion times three weeks hence: “Merry Christmas.”

In the U.S., six billion SMS (short message service) messages are sent every day, according to Forrester Research, and over 2.2 trillion are sent a year. Across the globe, the annual number is 8.6 trillion text messages sent each year.

But speaking of the globe, it might come as a shock to the rest of the world that the U.S. considers the text message in its decline. Huawei, China’s largest phone-equipment maker, is looking to see its revenue in southern and eastern Africa increase by as much as 30 percent in the next three years as growth on the continent outpaces most other regions.

Just 5 percent of Africans have mobile broadband subscriptions, compared with more than 10 percent in the rest of the world. So when considered across the entire globe, as opposed to just the U.S., text messaging is far from decline.


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