the man who sent the very first message on a mobile phone tells us

MAINTENANCE – The very first text message celebrates its 30th anniversary on December 3, 2022. It was sent from London by a 22-year-old British engineer.

He joins the family of thirty-somethings. This Saturday, December 3, 2022, the SMS (Short Message Service) is 30 years old. Since then, the use of the message has evolved, with in particular the appearance in 2002 of MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) allowing the sending of photos and videos.

Ten years earlier, Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old British engineer and software designer for the Sema Group company, sent the first SMS in history. It was sent on December 3, 1992 to Richard Jarvis, director of the British telephone operator Vodafone. The company was then a client of Sema Groupe, the source of the technology needed to send the first SMS.

Neil Papworth still works in the IT field and now lives in Montreal, Canada.

LE FIGARO. – The first SMS was sent 30 years ago. How do you feel today?

Neil PAPWORTH. – On the one hand, I’m proud to have sent that first message and to be part of the story. I am proud that I am the first. On the other hand, if it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else. You know, I just sent the first text, I didn’t make it up. I don’t think I changed anything about the process. But I’m still happy and proud to have done it.

You wrote “Merry Christmas” (“Merry Christmas)”. Why ?

I don’t remember if it was my choice or if someone asked me to send this. In fact, this SMS was intended for Richard Jarvis, director of the telephone operator Vodafone for whom we worked. On December 3, 1992, there was a Christmas party at Vodafone, where Richard Jarvis was at that time. It was in a hotel in Newbury [à l’ouest de Londres, NDLR]. I believe there were a lot of Vodafone employees present at this party. Sending the text was probably part of the show for them.

Send “Merry Christmasto someone at a Christmas party sounds pretty fitting, doesn’t it?

“At that time, our system only allowed messages to be received on a telephone. Not to send. »

How did the shipment go?

This was done from a large computer, connected to the telephone network. The SMS was of course sent to a wireless phone, but at that time our system only allowed messages to be received on a phone. Not to send. We therefore had no choice but to connect our computers to the telephone network.

The person who received the message was across town, I had no way of directly knowing if it worked. A colleague was on the phone with someone who was in this hotel, next to Richard Jarvis. He told me when to send the message. When I pressed the button I had sweaty palms hoping everything would work, I was nervous. I really wanted to show Vodafone management that our system was working. Then my colleague gave me a sign to let me know that everything had worked.

How did you feel at that time, back then?

I was proud, but above all relieved. Relieved that it worked. I was happy. I then moved on to something else for the rest of the day. I don’t remember what I did that day after the message was sent. I still remember driving home. I wondered what I was going to eat that night.

“It’s a big milestone in my life today, but back then it was just a normal day at work. »

At the time, it was not something so important. It wasn’t the kind of event where you’re like,bon sangit was melike when someone first walked on the moon [Neil Armstrong en 1969, NDLR]. It’s a milestone in my life today, but back then it was just a normal day at work. Really.

Why were you chosen to send this message?

We tested the software that technically allowed SMS to be sent from our offices. I remember one day someone asked if there was a volunteer to work with Vodafone and install this system. I said to myself “yeah, that looks niceso I volunteered. I did a lot of testing for Vodafone.

“No one realized what it would become a few years later”

There was no selection process for who was going to send the first text message. I believe up to 29 people worked on this project at the same time. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but someone must have asked “who is available?and I had to be. Maybe the fact that I participated in the tests also played a role. Sitting in front of a keyboard and texting is what we’ve all been doing for a while, you know. No one had realized what it would become a few years later.

Are you surprised by the evolution of SMS?

Yes and I still am. SMS remains popular and widely used, although messages like Messenger [la messagerie de Facebook, NDLR] ou iMessage [utilisée sur les téléphones Apple, NDLR] and all these kinds of services exist.

There are probably reasons for this. Some people don’t have Facebook or whatever, but mostly people have their own preferences, their own habits. So I’m surprised it’s still as popular as it is today. But I’m glad it’s still relevant and people are using it. Otherwise, we would not be here to discuss, right? (laughs).

Do you think SMS is doomed to disappear?

I imagine that it will eventually happen one day… But this question had already arisen when the SMS was 20 years old [en 2012, NDLR] and it is still there ten years later. I don’t think that will happen in the short term, because everyone has a phone in their pocket and it’s still handy for little things.

When you want to tell someone that you’re going to be late for the bar or that you have to buy cucumbers at the supermarket, there’s no need for music or videos. (laughs). A few words of text are enough. So I think texting is still going to be around for a while.

A final word?

Merry Christmas! (laughs)

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