SMS is believed to be originated from radio telegraphy in radio memo pagers. It was originated by using standardized phone protocols. These protocols were defined as the part of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) series of standards in the year 1985. Maximum length of up to 160 characters to and from GSM mobile handsets had been set as a means of sending messages. The support for the service has expanded to include other mobile technologies, such as ANSI CDMA networks and Digital AMPS although most of the SMS messages are mobile-to-mobile text messages. It included satellite and landline networks too.

Vodafone GSM network had been used in the United Kingdom on 3 December 1992 for the first SMS message that was sent by Neil Papworth of Sema Group using a personal computer to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone who was using an Orbitel 901 handset. He was working as a developer and test engineer at Sema Group Telecoms. His team was developing a Short Message Service Centre (SMSC) for their customer, Vodafone UK in Newbury, Berkshire. As part of this project, he sent the world's first text message.


The text of the short-message was "Merry Christmas". Papworth gained popularity during the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the first text message. He has been featured in several outlets such as a Super Bowl commercial, a documentary movie, a Jeopardy question and radio talk shows and was highlighted in the press. For the consumers, the first commercially sold SMS service was offered by Radiolinja in Finland country in the year 1993. Radiolinja is now a part of Elisa. Most early GSM mobile phone (near around the years 1993-1994) handsets except Nokia did not support the ability to send SMS text messages. Users used Nokia handset to do that. Initial growth of this SMS process was slow, with customers in 1995 sending only on average of 0.4 messages per GSM customer per month.

One factor in the slow takeup of SMS was that operators were slow to set up charging systems. It was especially for prepaid subscribers Initially, networks in the United Kingdom only allowed customers to send messages to other users on the same network. It was the limit of the usefulness of the service. This restriction was lifted in the year 1999.

Texting is a major way of communication now, and many use the phone for this purpose only. In 2010, the world sent over (roughly estimated) 193,000 per second which means over 6.1 trillion messages through the year.