Monday 3 December marks 20 years since the world’s first SMS was sent via Vodafone UK’s GSM network. The message was received on an Orbitel 901 handset (see picture below) and said “Merry Christmas”.
The person who sent the message was Neil Papworth. Here’s Vodacom’s interview with him, via SMS:
What was the idea behind trying to send a text message that day?
Neil> We were demonstrating that txt msging worked outside the lab.
Why were you picked to send the message?
Neil> I was one of a number of ppl testing and had done much of the installation & integration on the customer site.
How did you check the message was delivered, where was the receiving party?
Neil> Richard Jarvis was @ the Vdf [Vodafone] Christmas party. A colleague next to him was on the phone (how old-fashioned!) to a Vdf mgr next to me.
How did you come up with “Merry Christmas” on December 3rd? Did you think it would take that long to deliver?
Neil> What else would u send to a Christmas party ?
What was the moment, the atmosphere like when the message was sent and delivered?
Neil> It was a professional moment. We were under pressure 2 deliver, & we did. When it works, u just think “GR8 !”
When did you realise you were the pioneer of a majorly successful global communication tool?
Neil> Ha, well I didn’t even think about it b4 it was widely reported on the 10th anniversary. So, about 10 yrs ago !
What impact did the SMS have on your life personally?
Neil> I continued working with SMS for almost 20 yrs. Every yr I get a good 5 mins of fame, from coverage in the local paper 2 starring in a Superbowl ad!
What was the most important or most memorable SMS you have sent or received?
Neil> Announcing the births of my 3 kids 2 family & friends.
What famous person would you like to send a text message to and what would you write?
Neil> I’m a big F1 fan. I’d txt fellow Brit Jenson Button & say, “C u @ the race in Montreal. Fancy a pint ?”. U got his # ?
Who should never text you?
Neil> My kids. Until they r old enough 2 own a phone & pay the bill themselves.
Imagine you had the chance to send a text message to all mobile phones in the world – what would your message be?
Neil> Don’t txt & drive!
When did you write a real letter for the last time?
Neil> OMG. When I was @ Vodacom in Johannesburg I wrote some letters 2 my mum ! That was maybe 1994!”