The text message is 20 years old today

03 December 2012

Txt celebr8s its bday :-)

The humble text message today celebrates its 20th birthday. The first ever text was sent on 3 December 1992, when a 22-year-old British engineer called Neil Papworth used his computer to send the message "Merry Christmas" to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.

According to Ofcom research, the average UK consumer now sends around 50 text messages every week. In just two decades, the SMS (short message service) has changed the way we communicate - and in just 160 characters.

In 2011, more than 150 billion text messages were sent in the UK, which was almost triple the amount sent five years previously in 2006 when 51 billion texts were sent*.

Texting is now most prolific among 12-15 year olds, who say they are sending an average of 193 texts every week, almost four times as much as the UK average. This has more than doubled from 12 months ago, when just 91 were sent**. Bar graph showing increased use of texting
year on year between 2003 to 2011

Texting more popular than talking

Texting is now the most popular way to stay in contact - with more people texting friends and family on a daily basis then talking face to face*. Teenagers and young adults are leading these changes.

According to Ofcom's Communications Market Report 2012, 90% of 16-24s text on a daily basis to communicate with friends and family. By comparison, talking on the phone is less popular among this younger age group, with 67% making mobile phone calls on a daily basis, and only 63% talking face to face.

Girls text 35% more than boys

Older girls (12-15 year olds) are texting significantly more than boys, sending an average of 221 messages a week - 35% more than boys of the same age, who send 164 a week. The average 8-11 year old sends 41 texts each week, almost double the number (23) sent in 2011**.

SMS levels showing signs of decline in first half of 2012

The first half of 2012 saw two quarterly declines in the volume of SMS messages sent in the UK (Q1 2012: 39.1 billion; Q2 2012: 38.5 billion), falling slightly from their peak of 39.7 billion in quarter 4 in 2011.  This decline could be down to people using alternative forms of text based communications, such as instant messaging and social networking sites. The recent increase in ownership of internet-connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones, could be responsible for this trend. Four in ten (39%) adults now own a smartphone, which have made it easier to access web-based communications.

James Thickett, Ofcom's Director of Research, said: "When texting was first conceived many saw it as nothing more than a niche service.

"But texts have now surpassed traditional phone calls and meeting face to face as the most frequent way of keeping in touch for UK adults, revolutionising the way we socialise, work and network.

"For the first time in the history of mobile phones, SMS volumes are showing signs of decline. However the availability of a wider range of communications tools like instant messaging and social networking sites, mean that people might be sending fewer SMS messages, but they are 'texting' more than ever before."

*Ofcom's Communications Market Report 2012

**Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2012