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Texting Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the world’s first text message. 

Exactly 20 years ago, on Dec. 3, 1992, 22-year-old British engineer Neil Papworth sent the first-ever SMS -- Short Messaging Service -- from his computer to a friend’s Orbitel 901 mobile phone.  The message read: “Merry Christmas.”

Little did Papworth know that that one little SMS would become known as a text, with billions of them being sent around the world.

An SMS is sent from one phone to another on a narrow slice of cellular bandwidth called the control channel.  That’s an always-there connection that’s used to inform phones of incoming calls and signal strength.

The control channel’s small size is the reason for the strict character cap on a text message’s length.  The limit is 160 characters, which is why Twitter, which was originally based on SMS, limits tweets to 140 characters.  That allows it to include the text plus the sender in a single message.

On its 20th anniversary, SMS usage is declining worldwide and being replaced by a wide range of alternatives, including Apple’s iMessage and Facebook messaging.  SMS will likely continue to decline as more people buy smartphones.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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