Long May the SMS Reign

Toby Shapshak | Times Live | June 11, 2012

THE greatest communication mechanism in the world is arguably still SMS - the short message service sent over cellphones.

Despite the prevalence of new mobile-based instant messaging (IM) services such as WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and Apple's iMessage, SMS works across all phones and works well. It might be the most expensive messaging method, however, because network operators still charge disproportionately more for texts than it costs them to deliver them. But it works, often when nothing else does, and is a lifeline of communication in some of the poorest areas of the world.

Mobile operators are predicted to earn $722.7-billion in SMS revenues between 2011 and 2016, according to Informa Telecoms & Media. "Globally, Informa forecasts that SMS traffic will total 9.4-trillion messages by 2016, up from 5.9-trillion in 2011. However, SMS's share of global mobile messaging traffic will fall from 64.1% in 2011, to 42.1% in 2016," said Informa's Pamela Clark-Dickson.

But SMS works and has been the backbone of cellphone communication around the world - precisely because it works on all handsets. Its ubiquity and efficiency are fuelling lots of clever projects, not least in Africa, where the vast majority of cellphones are the more basic "feature" phones...