Is Trouble Brewing for the SMS Text Messaging Industry?

The very first text message, or SMS (Short Messaging Service), was sent in 1993. Hard to believe something so prevalent today was introduced less than 20 years ago, isn’t it? Text messages today are virtually everywhere. Very few new ideas have changed the world so quickly. Not only do people of all ages and backgrounds love SMS messaging, carriers are big fans as well since they can either charge per message, or they can sell unlimited plans at a great profit. However, although text messaging is still thought of as a new technology – indeed, in many parts of the world, it still is – trends are already developing that could spell doom for traditional text messaging.

The Popularity Trend: Why Don’t They Love Me Anymore?!

To understand why SMS is in fading in popularity, it is important to understand the differences in how Americans usually pay for their text messaging service versus the rest of the world. In the United States, most users sign up for long term contracts that include certain number of text messages. In fact, in many cases, these contracts now include unlimited monthly messages. However, in many developing countries, users pay month to month for their messages. For example, in India, over 95 percent of the market uses some type of pay as you go plan, according to the Wall Street Journal.

So why is this causing a trend of diminishing text message popularity? Believe it or not, technological development is primarily responsible. Once upon a time, phones were used for little but making calls and sending text messages. Now, however, they are used at least as much to browse the internet. And therein lies the rub. Many overseas customers, when buying a month of service, face the choice of paying for unlimited Internet or unlimited texts. Thanks to the rise of the independent text messaging services now included in programs like iMessage, Facebook Chat, WhatsApp and Skype, there is really not much of a choice. These services allow text messages to be sent using only internet data instead of SMS networks.

The Abuse Trend: Come On, That’s Not What That Is For

Another trend that seems to be damaging the popularity of text messaging is the increasing abuse of the technology. According to Tech Crunch, a large scale hoax text message in August of 2012 caused “tens of thousands of migrants to flee India’s northwest region.” In response, the Indian government limited cellular users to five SMS messages per day. Users who had online messaging apps, however, were able to skirt these bans. This movement toward lack of control is also helping drive the trend away from SMS messaging.

Overall Trend Evaluations: What’s It All Mean, Anyway?

China Daily reports that, after seeing growth every year since their introduction in 2000, SMS usage and revenue in China saw their first declines at the beginning of this year. Although still highly profitable, and likely to be so for years to come, this development has big telecom corporations understandably nervous. They now seem to be faced with the choice of either doubling down on their current investment in SMS technology and trying to find a way to improve upon it, or of entering the online messaging industry themselves.

Trend Results: So Now What?

This trend towards messaging services and away from traditional SMS messages will mean big business for third-party app developers, unless traditional carriers come up with a plan to stop them fast (and so far, they have not even come close). Tech Crunch states that in many cases, the smartphone messaging market across the globe – whether in Europe, North America, Asia or anywhere else – is still very fragmented. This lack of a dominant independent messaging player means that up and coming developers still have plenty of untapped market share with which to gain entry. While WhatsApp has managed to capture the majority of the European and Australian markets, much of the rest of the world is still a free for all. Much like the early social media scene, no one service has yet to fully tap the market’s potential and become the next billion dollar idea.

Sam Jones, the author, has plenty of free texts on his mobile phone but stil finds himself relying on other ways of staying connected.

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