SMS - past, present and future - Part one

In a world dominated by the likes of WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger (amongst others), you could be forgiven for wondering where SMS fits nowadays. This three-part blog series will answer all of these questions and more as we consider the past, present and future of SMS.

19 September 2017

It’s been 25 years since the first SMS was sent over the UK Vodafone GSM network. Even then, that was from a computer as mobile phones didn’t have keyboards at the time. Understandably, it was slow to catch on.

Three years after the first SMS, in 1995 people were still only sending on average 0.4 messages per month – that’s pretty much zero! However, when billing systems improved and handsets became easier to use, unsurprisingly the numbers started to rocket. We hit a peak in the UK of 39.7 billion messages in the fourth quarter of 2011 – that’s around 165 SMS messages "per mobile subscriber, per month".

Fast forward to 2017 and there are now many different options for sending messages. But let’s look back and assess the fundamental strengths of SMS, most of which it retains today and that points to a continuing and important role for SMS in the mobile communications mix.

One of the original advantages of SMS was (and is) its openness. SMS is completely non-proprietary and ubiquitous; i works on every phone, everywhere and, unlike the newer messaging platforms, no data connection is needed. It means that today SMS can reach the over 6 billion of the global population that own a mobile phone, wherever they happen to be. That’s powerful stuff!

The statistics for SMS remain massive. Currently, around 20 billion SMS messages are sent daily – the equivalent of three for every person in the world every single day. And what hasn’t changed with SMS over the years is its impressive engagement levels; according to the Mobile Marketing Watch, text messages have a 98% open rate compared to just 20% for emails. Similarly, just 12% of Facebook posts and 29% of Twitter posts get read. Better still, most SMS messages are opened in around just five seconds!

Whereas in the past most SMS messages have been peer-to-peer (i.e., between friends and colleagues), in 2017 we are still only at the early stages of exploring what this might mean for the way organisations interact with their customers, but the appetite is growing rapidly. Put it this way, in April 2016 around 38% of Contact Centres offered SMS but by the end of 2016, this figure had grown hugely to 61%. With more people texting than watching TV, reading newspapers or buying magazines, businesses have a great opportunity to seize this trend to engage with customers and employees.

In our next blog, we will look at how organisations can leverage the SMS opportunity. We’ll highlight some examples of best practice where companies are truly engaging with their audience with precisely-timed campaigns, but if you can’t wait until the next release, you can learn more about GCI’s SMS services here or get in touch at


Nigel Broomhall
Product Manager

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