While their spelling would make your English teacher cringe, the brevity and simplicity of SMS (Short Message Service) messages can't be denied. Long the rage in Europe and Asia, SMS, which allows text messages of up to 160 characters to be sent between mobile phones, is exploding in the U.S.
SMS isn't the newest wireless technology or the sexiest, yet its simplicity makes it powerful. SMS messages must be short, so by definition they are direct and to the point. And unlike other emerging wireless technologies, SMS is practically ubiquitous; all major wireless carriers in the U.S. enable their users to send and receive SMS messages.
While still trailing Europe and Asia, use of SMS by U.S. mobile phone subscribers is starting to grow, particularly among teenagers (a group that's rapidly becoming the U.S. technology barometer). Telephia, a market research firm covering the wireless industry, estimates that as of Q1 2004, 32% of adult subscribers (age 18+) were using SMS, up from 20% in 2003. Furthermore, 53% of teens 13 to 17 use text messaging features on their phones, an increase from 45% last year. At Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., customers sent and received more than 2.1 billion text messages in Q1 2004, with an average of 700 million messages sent per month.
As SMS takes off, companies of all types are exploring how to use it as a content delivery mechanism, a marketing tool, and a platform for internal communication.
Simple Message Service
The recent growth of SMS in the U.S. can largely be attributed to interoperability between carriers. "In Europe and Asia, text messaging took off 2-3 years earlier in part because U.S. networks were not interoperable. Interoperability came in mid-2002 and only at that point could a consumer with carrier x send a text message to a consumer at carrier y," explains Travis Larson, spokesperson for the wireless industry trade association, CTIA.
Most SMS messages are person-to-person chats. SMS messages are sent between mobile phones when one user accesses the texting functions on his phone, enters another user's 10 digit phone number, keys in a message of up to 160 characters, and then clicks send. The recipient of an SMS message can easily use her phone to send an SMS message in return.
SMS can also be used to deliver one-way broadcasts to a large number of recipients. This is often done from a computer instead of a mobile phone as keying text messages using a phone can be laborious and requires so-called "triple-tapping." For example, entering the letter "L" requires hitting the "5" key three times. So the word "hello" takes 13 keystrokes to type. An elaborate short-hand has developed to save keystrokes when tapping SMS messages.
Despite the drawbacks associated with triple-tapping, more and more mobile phone users are seeing the benefits of SMS, and it is making inroads into the business world. "It's an effective way to communicate with people so it has a lot of applications both professionally and personally," says Mark Bartolomeo, director of business sales at Verizon Wireless.