Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Origins Of Text Messaging

By Tricia Duryee - Mon 04 May 2009 02:41 PM PST

With U.S. cellphone owners now sending an average of 357 messages a month, and Twitter pretty much standardizing thoughts of around characters, it makes you wonder how the technology ever got started?

The LA Times answers that question today after interviewing Friedhelm Hillebrand of Bonn, Germany, who helped usher in this new era of communication. Hillebrand's research stretches back to 1985, when he used his typewriter to compose random sentences to determine that messages of 160 characters were "perfectly sufficient." He also found that often postcards contained fewer than 150 characters, and messages sent through Telex, a popular telegraphy network for business professionals at the time, were also usually about the same length, he said.

After determining a message's ideal length, he had to create a market. As chairman of the nonvoice services committee within the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), a group that sets standards for the majority of the global mobile market, they decided that all phones and providers must support short messaging service (SMS). Next, since networks didn't support data at the time, Hillebrand needed to figure out how they would be sent. He thought to leverage a secondary radio channel that had been used only to alert a cellphone about reception strength and incoming calls. Hillebrand told the Times: "Most of the time, nothing happens on this control link. So, it was free capacity on the system." Initially, they could fit only 128 characters, but with a little tweaking, they squeezed out room another 32 characters to hit the perfect number.

The LA Times reported that today Hillebrand, who lives in Bonn and manages Hillebrand & Partners, a technology patent consulting firm, never got rich from participating in the concept. Although if it's any consolation, he does get an honorable mention in the Wikipedia entry on "SMS."

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