The long and short of texting

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The British software engineer who sent the world’s first text message 20 years ago said on Monday that he was amazed at how the technology had developed.

The engineer, Neil Papworth, was chosen by chance to send the message — which read “Merry Christmas” — to a director at British telecommunications giant Vodafone after he had worked on developing the software.

Vodafone wanted to develop the technology as an improvement on paging, Mr. Papworth said, and no one realised then how it would change the culture of communication forever — 150 billion texts were sent in Britain alone last year.

“They thought it would be used as an executive pager so that secretaries could get hold of their bosses while they were out and about and they could send them messages and tell them what to do and where to go,” Mr. Papworth told BBC radio.

On December 3, 1992, he was 22 and working for a company called Sema Group Telecoms at Vodafone’s offices in Newbury, southeast England, developing what was known as a Short Message Service Centre (SMSC).

Mobile phones did not at that point have keyboards so he typed out the message on a computer keyboard.

As text messaging quickly gained in popularity, Vodafone ordered more and more equipment to support the system.


The sender of the world’s first text message is amazed how the technology has progressed

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