160 Characters Later

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The world’s most popular mobile money transfer service MPESA runs on the SMS platform. In the US, a billion text messages are sent every month outstripping data and voice services per user. Back in Kenya, bills are paid via text messages, alarm alerts come via text, and now you can borrow money via text. So where did it all come from. The SMS (Short Message Service) idea came to life in 1984 when GSM Engineers Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaest thought of utilizing the idle call-alert channel also known as the signaling path by transmitting additional information over it and viola! The SMS was born. The initial text size of text messages was 128 bytes, but later extended to 160 characters or bytes. The signaling path alerts a phone of an incoming call, a logical deduction would be send an SMS while there is an incoming call, but we do not receive phone calls every minute therefore the SMS remains a viable innovation.

After the epiphany of 1984, remote telephone station implemented the SMS protocols and kept the service as a means of monitoring remote stations by sending feedbacks. Later in 1992, with the introduction of wireless handheld telephone devices the services got a new lease of life as people were caught in the frenzy of sending short messages at a minimal cost. Google hasn’t been left behind, it is now possible to do a Google search by simply sending text message with keywords to 46645. The excitement does not end there, in Kenya Google in partnership with Safaricom launched a service that allows Safaricom subscribers to receive mail from their Gmail accounts as text messages for almost free. The concept has been extended to Ghana.

Enter Twitter, the social media platform that forces us to think in 140 characters, it epitomizes SMS utilization. The service started by allowing users to send updates known as twits to an online server where everyone would read them. Despite the success of the web platform, the company retained the SMS option, and this is the best example of SMS re-innovation. Facebook users can update their status and comment on posts via SMS. Perhaps the most innovative SMS product has to be GEOSMS, a service that returns a location name after sending its geo-coordinates. Example, “I am at (-36.4735, +0.0035)”, returns, “I am at Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel”. However, this service is still in its beta phase it has a huge potential, may be a disruptor of Foursquare, and may be the next frontier is blogging via SMS.

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