Originally published in The Clarion | November 14, 2012
Short Message Service – SMS – is a technology that many of us not only depend on but probably would not know what to do if we had to go without. In America, SMS is more commonly known as Text Messaging, and it has literally taken the world by storm. The history of sending electronic alphanumeric messages is an interesting one. The technology itself originated, believe it or not, in the early part of the 20th Century when short messages were sent via a system then referred to as Telex. With appropriate equipment attached to the telephone system at each end, messages were typed by the originator, sent across the telephone system network and printed at the recipient’s station. While somewhat hard to believe, this mechanical mechanism of communication evolved over the years into what many of us use on a daily basis – text messaging on our cellular phones.
In researching text messaging technology for this article, I was a bit surprised at the various methods of communication that originated with Telex. While the end results of each stage of the technology’s progression are all essentially the same, the journey from what seems an archaic mechanical method to what SMS has become today is rather interesting. The same fundamental technological principles that allowed messages to be sent and received almost one hundred years ago are still in play today. It was only very recently that messages could be more than 160 English characters. Actually, the length of text messages is still limited today. The only reason a message can be longer than 160 characters is that technological advances allow for messages to be automatically split into multiple messages – or – the message is converted from SMS to MMS – Multimedia Messaging Service – which takes advantage of a wireless provider’s data network instead of using the traditional voice system for delivering longer messages.
SMS-type messages have been used for everything from pagers or beepers which were very popular in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s to control systems where a short message can be sent to a recipient device that is connected to some piece of equipment that accepts operational commands from these messages. Many devices can also be configured to actually send SMS-type messages for various things including reporting system problems in data networks, emergency public service announcements and others. The popularity of cellular phones has brought with it voting for contestants on television shows via SMS, SMS registration for prizes given away by companies and a means of donating money to any number of charitable organizations via SMS where the monetary donation is added to the sender’s monthly phone bill. As technology continues to evolve, one can only guess what we will be doing with SMS in upcoming years.