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Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 06:15 GMT
Txt msging part 3: Millions turned on by joy of text

Last September E-cyclopedia wrote about the boom in txt msging - sending short messages over mobile phones.

"Do u spk txt?" it asked. "The chncs r, if u dnt, u wll b4 lng," it said. Now, six months later, it can pat itself on the back. Hw rt it ws.
The growth in text messaging in the UK is described by one mobile phone operator as "exponential". Last month alone, there were 396 million text messages sent by UK mobile phone owners.

This time last year there were fewer than 45 million. It's a growth of nearly 900% in less than 12 months.

Anyone who has ever sent a text message knows the attraction. As well as instant communication (something lacking with e-mail), there is an almost childlike Famous Five secret pleasure.

You don't need to shout into a phone, so hated by train passengers, but you can discreetly tap out something so abbreviated it looks as if it might give the Enigma code cracker a headache.

But the growth in text messaging, or Short Message Service (SMS) is good news for the mobile industry for more reasons than one. For a start, users are charged up to 12p per message.

This means it would very easy to rack up a couple of pounds' worth of messages in a day without really noticing.

But it is also good news for the networks because it means people are getting used to using their phones for text.

Karl Maylan, One2One's text messaging manager, said the explosion had been due to two factors: firstly, people being able to send messages across networks - which started last April - and secondly, the extension of messaging to pre-pay customers.

"I think eventually the new technology will have an impact on the basic text messaging, but I think that's some way off. The growth has been so fantastic, it's not going to disappear overnight."

Only three years ago, he says, much of the pager industry had not seen text messaging as a threat, because it thought the 160-character limit would put people off.'s Wapalizer (see footnote)
"It was a blinkered view. But now you go into any pub or night club and you will see people text messaging away," he says.

But there are even bigger things on the way. Analysts estimate that by the end of this year, 70% of new mobile phones sold will be Wap phones. (Wap stands for Wireless Application Protocol - the technology which gives access to a slimmed-down version of the internet on a mobile phone.)

And John Carter, a spokesman for Orange, goes further still. "By the end of 2002 we are predicting that there will be more Wap-enabled devices in use than there will be PCs connected to the internet. The potential for m-commerce is huge."

(M-commerce, for those still getting their minds round e-commerce, stands for mobile commerce.)

One vision of the future is being able to haggle with a second-hand car dealer with the advantage of having all the latest list prices being beamed to your phone.

So SMS is, in effect, softening mobile customers up to see their phones as much more than just things to speak on. They could become people's primary interface with the internet.

While the networks rub their hands, though, not everybody is convinced. Nick Clayton, technology editor of the Scotsman newspaper, says: "I have yet to see the killer application for Wap phones. In certain specialised areas it could take off, but I remain unconvinced that it will be massive across the board."

One major limitation to it is the size of the screen, he says. And as far as SMS messaging is concerned, he believes it is mostly the preserve of young people, students, and employees of mobile phone companies.

Whichever vision proves to be right, the growth of SMS at the moment seems unstoppable. And we won't have to wait long to know which way it goes.

Because the future for mobile phones - as in the internet business - will be here in months, not years.

(FOOTNOTE: To see how BBC News looks on a mobile phone, try going to and type in its Wapalizer.)

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See also:
16 Sep 99 |  e-cyclopedia
Txt msging: Th shp of thngs 2 cm?
15 Oct 99 |  e-cyclopedia
Txt msging Part 2: The vocab list

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