12 Facts to Celebrate the 20th Birthday of SMS [Stats]

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On December 3, 1992, Neil Papworth sent the world’s first ever SMS (Short Message Service) text from the UK through the Vodafone network.

"I didn’t invent SMS, I just sent the 1st. So kudos to all those GSM guys who worked hard to produce the standards we used for the implementation..." he said in an interview over SMS in honor of the anniversary.

SMS technology has created big opportunities for entrepreneurs throughout the Middle East and North Africa, leading to further mobile innovation across sectors. One startup leveraging the power of texting is Palestinian company Souktel, which matching communities with aid opportunities and employers with potential hires, all via SMS.

SMS and mobile internet also famously enabled many of the rallies and demonstrations that brought about the Arab Spring, now becoming a gateway for startups to monetize and market themselves via mobile apps and SMS as mobile and smartphone penetration increases. 

To celebrate the anniversary, check out some interesting stats about SMS and mobile use in the Arab world, Africa, and the across the globe:

  • 60% of the world's population now has mobile access to the Internet (Zawya) [tweet this fact].
  • Mobile penetration in Arab countries is at 97%, 19% higher than the world average (Population Reference Bureau) [tweet this fact].
  • Despite a 47% smartphone penetration rate, 91% of smartphone users still use basic text message; 2.5 times that of any social media application and over 8 times higher than any mobile message application (Souktel) [tweet this fact].
  • Thanks to mobile penetration, Saudi Arabia has the largest telecom market in the GCC sized at USD 11.6 billion in 2010 (Delta Partners Group) [tweet this fact].
  • Text messages are read within 4 minutes, compared to 48 hours for email (Zawya) [tweet this fact].
  • Response rates via SMS are 8 times that of email (Souktel) [tweet this fact].
  • There are twice as many active SMS users in the world than active users of email (Zawya) [tweet this fact].
  • 55% of global SMS subscribers say they use the technology to communicate with clients, customers and business partners (Zawya) [tweet the fact].
  • 67% of mobile phone users worldwide subscribe to an SMS text messaging service; 2.1 billion people actively text on a regular basis (Zawya) [tweet this fact].
  • People between the ages of 12-45 send 60% more text messages than make voice calls (Zawya) [tweet this fact].
  • The Arab world saw a 23% year-over-year growth rate in mobile subscriptions between 2006-2011, making it the second fastest-growing region in the world, surpassed only by Africa (Souktel) [tweet this fact].
  • In South Africa, Google says 25% of its searches during the week are via mobile, rising to 65% on the weekends (CNN) [tweet this fact].
Sources are noted in parenthesis.

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