A comprehensive history of text messaging

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It’s wild to think that text messaging over SMS has been around for nearly 30 years. The first SMS sent read “merry Christmas” (that’s not a typo) and was sent by Neil Papworth to the cellphone of Vodafone director Richard Jarvis in December of 1992. Now SMS is a part of our lives (even if emojis are a questionable bump in the road).

In light of all the changes we’ve seen in the last few years, and the changes that are imminent in the years to come, it’s good to have a look back on the history of this service we’ve all come to rely on.

Major milestones in texting history


Text messaging arrives on scene, with limited functionality and the ability to only send a SMS to someone on the same network as you. Fun fact: Did you know it takes 13 numeric key entries to say “hello?”


The first QWERTY keyboard is introduced to make sending text a whole lot easier. Thanks, Nokia.


The first wireless intercarrier messaging meeting happened in Las Vegas, with all participating carriers committed to supporting intercarrier functionality.


The US wireless carriers drop the invisible wall and allow subscribers from other networks to send and receive SMS from their own subscribers. 


American Idol is sponsored by AT&T, launching the first “text to vote” program and introducing short codes to the American public. 


The first year Americans exchanged more text messages than phone calls per month. The iPhone also debuts this year, bringing with it the era of the smartphone.


The first toll-free phone numbers are enabled for text messaging.


The CTIA releases SMS Interoperability Guidelines, incorporating non-wireless services and traffic exchange.


Business messaging on toll-free phone numbers finally takes off, growing 300% YoY, with Bandwidth as one of the first providers.


The CTIA releases the first Messaging Principles and Best Practices document, defining volumetric guidelines to help identify person-to-person (P2P) or consumer traffic from non-consumer traffic (also called application-to-person or A2P).


The FCC formally confirms that it views SMS and MMS as information services, not telecommunication services under the Telecom Act.


The CTIA releases an update to the Messaging Principles and Best Practices, redefining A2P or business messaging traffic as “a business, organization, or entity that uses messaging to communicate with Consumers” and including schools and political organizations, formerly not considered A2P. 

The first commercial announcements for carrier-approved A2P messaging on local numbers are made, called 10DLC (ten digit long code) or Local A2P, along with an announcement that the ability to share short codes will be deprecated once 10DLC is fully live.

AT&T releases updated Code of Conduct to reflect the recently announced A2P policies.


Verizon implements 10DLC product with fees as of February 14th. 

Sprint and T-Mobile merger finalized in April

The Messaging Malware Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG) releases it’s best practices guide for political text messaging.

AT&T announces 10DLC pilot program launch in August.

Political text messaging makes headlines with massive volumes of traffic sent to consumers.

T-Mobile releases Code of Conduct 


CTIA releases new Code of Conduct 1-1-21