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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Txt msging: Th shp of thngs 2 cm?

Do u spk txt? The chncs r, if u dnt, u wll b4 lng.

2 jdge by ads 4 mob fns, txt msging hs ct pples imagntn, cos thyre all pshng it lk crzy.

1 sys u can snd pix, anthr sys u cn snd msgs to 15m pple in UK alne.

Bt lts gt smthg str8. Ths is jst the strt ;-> (Clck hre 4 nrmal Englsh trnsltn)

The strange language millions of people are now reading and writing fluently, which looks like a cross between shorthand and a made-up Balkan vernacular, stems from the rather unwieldy way you have to type. (Press key 2 once for A, twice for B, three times for C, etc ad nauseam.)

The attraction for users, though, seems clear. Without having to talk on the phone and risk getting a bigger bill than you want, and without looking like one of those people who talk loudly on mobiles at inappropriate moments, you can get your message over.

There's also a hint of undercover glamour to sending messages in code - just imagine what the Famous Five (or Melita Norwood, indeed) would have made of it.

The attraction for phone manufacturers (Nokia, Ericsson etc) is clear - another reason for people to buy phones.

And the attraction for network operators (Orange, Vodaphone, BT Cellnet and One2One) is even clearer. Charges vary, but you can pay up to 12p per message.

Messaging can be cumbersome, but it is catching on
Text messages, or SMS (Short Messages Service), allow 160 characters to be sent each time - not all that cheap really. (It's only the length of this paragraph.)

Simon Rockman, publisher of What Mobile, thinks it's a bit of a rip off. Just think how much information you could send through a modem for 10p, he says.

"I would say SMS is overpriced by an order of magnitude," he said.

"It's a nice way of contacting people, especially when you don't want to disturb them. But it's too expensive."

Some of the newer phones which enable users to send pictures actually will cost 30p per message, he said.

Instead of charging for individual messages, networks should bundle a certain number of messages into the normal tariff, he says.

Messaging has been around for years, of course, and has particularly taken on in Japan and the spiritual home of the mobile phone, Scandanavia and Finland. It has not developed in the US to the same extent because of the competing mobile platforms.

Sales of mobiles in the UK has soared in the past year
However, in the UK until earlier this year, phone owners could send messages only to people on the same network, limiting the appeal of messaging.

But after a loophole - involving sending messages overseas before they came back to the UK - was discovered, the networks got together and agreed that network should speak unto network.

(As the agreement has led to a huge uptake in messaging, the parties involved in the Internet instant messaging stand-off may decide to consider it.)

The real benefit to the networks and manufacturers, Simon Rockman said, was that messaging is getting people used to receiving data over their mobiles. (There are already some Internet service providers who will send e-mails direct to mobile phones.)

The next generations of systems, which sound like more examples of "txt", are WAP, GPRS and UMTS.

As well as meaning there will be more bandwidth to transfer data, handsets will turn into "microbrowsers", capable of dealing with the web, receiving and sending e-mail, and acting more like personal digital assistants.

In other words, the day is coming when you'll really be able to surf when you're at the beach.

(Translation from above: Do you speak text? The chances are, if you don't you will before long. To judge by adverts for mobile phones, text messaging has caught people's imagination, because they are all pushing it like crazy. One says you can send pictures, another says you can send messages to 15 million people in the UK alone. But let's get something straight. This is just the start.)

FOOTNOTE: User Michael J Ross writes from New York: "My mobile company continues to send me - despite repeated requests to desist - spam txt msgs advertising additional services. These are the only txt msgs I have ever received. Is this the first report you have had of mobile phone spam?"

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02 Jul 99 | The Company File
Britain mad about mobiles

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