You say goodbye, I say hello to SMS

Punters have long been spelling out the end of SMS, only to see SMS growth accelerate year-on-year. So, will they ever be right and is there an end in sight for SMS?

Well, if you aren’t in the mood or don’t have the time to read a long article, let me pre-empt your departure with the following:

Disruptive technologies are the ones that prompt the fastest changes and as yet, there is no fundamentally disruptive technology around that will replace the simplicity and ubiquitous nature of SMS.

That’s not to say there’s no valid logic and reasoning behind the arguments pronouncing the demise of SMS and while there are well-articulated arguments on both sides of this spectrum, what is often forgotten are the fundamental drivers behind the popularity and success of SMS.

Simple and Ubiquitous are not just buzzwords,  they are the reasons why SMS has become one of the most popular communication mediums with worldwide volumes well into the trillions. The ‘Mobile Messaging Futures 2007-2012’ report by Portio Research found that a projected 3.7 trillion messages being sent in 2012 will bring SMS revenues to an expected US$67bn. Simple and Ubiquitous are also the reasons why platform-dependant and propretary formats don’t have what it takes to eliminate SMS altogether.

Undoubtedly, the likes of smartphones and their respective apps will play a large role into the future. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t see some of the largest and most innovative companies like Apple and Google introducing applications such as iMessage for iOS 5. Yet these proprietary applications fail in the same way that video calling never really ‘made it’. Sure there’s some take-up, but it was not disruptive enough to replace voice calls. The other point to consider here is that, while smartphones are indeed very popular and quite the rage, according to research by the Kantar Group, smartphones make up 49% of the mobile phone market in Australia, which is then largely divided up by Android (Google) 42.9% and iOS (Apple) 37.2%. What this tells us is, at best, any single smartphone operating system at present, is running less than a quarter of the handsets in use in a country like Australia. While smartphones are definitely gaining more of that mobile market share at quite a rapid rate, the near-even divide between the two major operating systems powering the smartphones and their non-interoperability further highlights just why they’ll never be able to truly replace SMS.

The other argument often presented is the effect that social networks like Facebook may have in overtaking SMS, with the introduction of their own messaging apps. Actually, it is a conceivable premise that Facebook, being so large and so popular, may in fact play a very substantial role in the future of private and public communication; with an app available on all smartphones (as smartphones take an ever-increasing share of the mobile market) they’ll have ubiquity covered. Secondly, given that it’s Facebook, with all your ‘friends’already available in the one application, a simple smartphone app means Facebook also has simplicity covered. A real potential contender to SMS, some would say.

However, what isn’t there is the disruptive technology. There’s nothing fundamentally changing or improving in the way we communicate text between a smartphone application, or the simple SMS. The long tail of habit and existing infrastructure, with the lack of a disruptive technology, and its availability in low-signal areas where a data connection may not be, means SMS will be here and will remain mainstream for quite some time.

That’s the thing about technology in the IT & communication worlds, they’re persistent and resilient. You might see a rapid acceptance and take-up of a new technology, but rarely if ever to we see a sudden decline or the total conclusion of any technology. We still have a postal service which, according to Australia Post, is sending 110 million letters per week. That’s roughly the equivalent of one letter per person in Australia, every day. That’s despite the fact that the telegraph has been around for over 150 years and was touted to eliminate letters, and email has been around for 30 years now with the same promise.

Ultimately, SMS will come to an end, or rather its usage will substantially decline. But it wont happen with anything currently in the market and that means SMS will be here to stay for some years to come, both for private communication and for business to business communication.


About the Author:

Igor Zvezdakoski is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at SMS Central, a leading SMS and MMS messaging solutions provider based in Melbourne, Australia.

Founded in 2001, SMS Central is a customer-focused company that provides effective business communications solutions through the delivery of millions upon millions of SMS messages each month.


You can follow Igor Zvezdakoski on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

You can follow SMS Central on Twitter

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