Short Messaging Service (SMS) is the ability to send and receive text messages between mobile telephones over cellular networks. Once used exclusively by carriers to push notifications of new voice messages down to smart cell phones, SMS is now on a fast track to universal adoption by the cellular subscribers around the world, who have adopted it as a two-way personal messaging medium.
Created as part of the Global System for Mobile (GSM) Phase 1 standard, the first short message was sent in December 1992 from a PC to a mobile phone on the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom. With SMS, subscribers can send up to 160 characters of text when Latin alphabets are used and 70 characters when non-Latin alphabets such as Arabic and Chinese are used. The text can consist of words or numbers or an alphanumeric combination.
The success of SMS can be attributed to certain unique features, such as message storage if the recipient is not available, confirmation of short message delivery, and simultaneous transmission with GSM voice, data, and fax services. The person receiving the message also will know the phone number of the sender and the time at which the message was sent.
While its principal use is still for personal messaging, SMS is also being used for receiving weather reports and traffic information, mobile shopping, banking, and stock trading. SMS is being enhanced to support the delivery of long-text messages, images, and video as well.
Although the prospects for SMS in the United States look promising, its rollout has been hampered by interoperability problems between different carriers. While all European carriers have standardized on GSM, carriers in the United States use several competing technologies. As a result, AT&T’s message service will only work between other AT&T wireless customers or other carriers using its TDMAtransmission technology.
Likewise, Sprint PCS message-service customers would be able to communicate only with other Sprint PCS customers or other carriers using its CDMA transmission technology. Fortunately, gateway systems are being deployed that permit messages to be transmitted between customers on different carrier networks. Most premises-based mobile-access gateways and servers already provide interfaces to SMS.
A growing number of service providers offer SMS backbone-routing services to bridge otherwise-incompatible SMS carrier services. For example, TeleCommunication Systems introduced technology that allows intercarrier text messaging through use of a customer’s phone number. InfoSpace added wireless network SMS interoperability to its technology platform that already enables Internet content and mobile-commerce services via several wireless carriers.
Software developed by InphoMatch enables AT&T Wireless customers to send text messages to other wireless carriers’ customers. The growth prospects for SMS look so good that traditional paging services may one day disappear. Motorola has already announced that it is pulling out of the market for traditional paging infrastructure and handsets in favor of developing two-way technologies for use in wireless phones.
The company’s Wireless Messaging Division will now focus on providing SMS products for use on networks for GSM, General Packet Radio Services (GPRS), and CDMAprotocols. At the same time, Motorola announced that it is discontinuing products that support the ReFlex protocol, which Motorola developed in the 1990s for traditional two-way paging carriers such as Skytel and Arch Wireless.
AT&T Wireless was the first national carrier to bring SMS to the United States and is the current market leader. AT&T claims to handle 35 million text messages a month. Two plans are available for the two-way text-messaging service. The first has no monthly charge, and the user pays $0.10 per message sent. The second has a monthly charge of $4.99 per month with 100 included outgoing messages and $0.10 per message thereafter.
Both plans offer unlimited incoming messages and allow messages to be sent to subscribers of other carriers at no additional charge. The service also offers features that let users reply, forward, store, and retrieve messages right from their phone. Messages of up to 150 characters can be sent between compatible phones and to Internet e-mail addresses—including e-mail addresses for pagers, handheld devices, or Webenabled phones.
Among the mobile phones offered by AT&T Wireless that are compatible with its 2-Way Text Messaging service are the Nokia 5165, 3360, and 8260. Since November 2001, AT&T Wireless customers have had the ability to send text messages to virtually any wireless phone regardless of the carrier simply by knowing the recipient’s phone number.
The intercarrier text messaging capability is available to postpaid and prepaid subscribers in all the company’s TDMAand GSM markets. InphoMatch, a wireless messaging solution provider, supplies the software for the intercarrier messaging services. InphoMatch’s routing system sends messages between and across U.S. carriers simply by using a wireless phone number while remaining transparent to the customer.
Other service providers in the United States now offer SMS. The two-way text messaging service of Cingular is Interactive Messaging, which allows up to 150 characters. Users send text messages via the 10-digit mobile number of the recipient, regardless of which wireless service the recipient happens to have. Sprint PCS offers an SMS-based service called Short Mail, which allows users to send messages of up to 100 characters from one Sprint PCS phone to another.
Verizon Wireless offers its SMS-based service, called Mobile Messenger, which allows users to send short text messages of up to 160 characters between handsets or any Internet e-mail system. Voicestream’s two-way messaging service is called Ping Pong. It allows text messages of up to 140 characters to be sent and received between wireless devices using only an e-mail address.
In the same way instant messaging (IM) on the Internet has become a standard method of communication among U.S. teenagers, SMS will provide a choice that will grow the total messaging market and, in some cases, replace voice traffic and IM. Desktop-to-desktop IM is not conducive to mobility. Even desktop-to-mobile IM inhibits mobility because a cellular subscriber using a limited screen and keyboard cannot keep up with messaging traffic generated from a fully featured desktop. Unlike SMS, IM clients operating on wireless devices have proven complex, cumbersome, and difficult to use.