Last year 2008 saw the total global user base for SMS text messaging pass 3 billion. Today 76% of all mobile phone subscribers worldwide use SMS text messaging. Even the last hold-outs, the North Americans got into SMS partly through experimenting with votes on American Idol, but even more so with the Obama presidential campaign of 2008. Today more than half of Americans are active users of SMS text messaging and being fast learners, the US average has reached 4 SMS text messages sent per day across the total mobile phone subscriber base. This means the USA has caught up with average European SMS text messaging usage levels.
COMPARING WORLD'S MOST USED DATA APPLICATION
Three billion active users of SMS text messaging. Lets look a bit more deeply at that number. As we have reported here many times before, SMS texting is the most widely used data application on the planet. The active user base of SMS is three times the total number of personal computers - desktops, laptops and netbooks all put together. Even if we allow for all internet use, PC based and mobile phone based and all the access at internet cafes and university campuses and libraries etc, the total internet user base is 1.4 billion.
SMS text messaging is used by over twice the number of people who use the internet. Yes. This is a big opportunity. Lets first put SMS text messaging in perspective with other types of messaging activities. How near is email? Actually the global user base of SMS shot past email total user base seven years ago and today there are 2.5 times as many people on the planet who send messages using their phones, than send messages via the email system. Total email user base is 1.3 billion.
How about instant messaging? Thats big and growing bigger. Sure it is, but it is nowhere near a billion users yet, at about 700 million, worldwide. SMS text messaging is used by over four times more people. Individual social networking sites, like MySpace, Facebook etc totally pale in comparison. Facebook has about 150 million users. In fact the next largest messaging use, after SMS text messaging on a mobile phone, is now MMS picture messaging also on a mobile phone used by 1.35 billion people.
OTHER CONTENT AND SERVICES
Well, then lets compare to other measures. TV sets? 1.5 billion of those, so SMS is used by twice as many people as own a TV set. That should make many media execs stop and pay attention. Oh, but its not really comparing apples with apples, because broadcast analog TV is free, over the air. How many TV owners pay for the TV viewing, either as a cable TV or satellite TV subscription? All users of SMS text messaging pay for their service, usually paying per message. Yes, the paid TV viewing number is 850 million. Yes, people willing to pay for the fun of texting worldwide, is 3.5 times bigger than the number willing to pay for their TV programming. Every person who owns a TV set, also has a phone and most of the time, the phone within arm's reach when watching TV. No wonder TV shows like American Idol want us to vote via SMS.
How about newspapers? Well, only 480 million newspapers are printed daily, so SMS messages are read and written by - oh, and paid for - by six times as many people as those who buy a paper every day. Yes, a very large number it is. And news via SMS? That was launched nine years ago in Finland. Today 680 million people pay to receive news via their mobile phone, 42% more than pay to buy a newspaper. In many Asian countries one in three phone owners subscribes to a news service. And the majority of mobile news is SMS based.
What of money? Well, 1.7 billion people have a credit card, so nearly twice as many people can make payments using SMS - theoretically, as this ability is dependent on the network provider and only a small fraction of all networks around the world offer payment and banking abilities using SMS. But yes, talking about banking, how about any kind of banking account? That number is 2.1 billion. But SMS texting - which can do payments perfectly well - is used by 3 billion people. And SMS is now starting to become a major payment and banking system as well, pioneered in the Phlippines at the start of this decade and now used by more than half of their phone owners. In Kenya 20% of all people with some kind of banking or equivalent account, actually have only a mobile phone based SMS banking service. So SMS has already cannibalized 20% of banking in Kenya. That should get the attention of the odd banker who happens upon the Communities Dominate blog..
Cars? We hear of texting-while-driving, a very dangerous habit that is unfortunately a global phenomenon too. Yes, every car owner on the planet has a mobile phone, in the car, with them today. Every one of them. And the total registered cars worldwide? About 800 million. But SMS texting, nearly 4 times more users. So its not just the driver texting, odds are the passengers in the car do texting too..
SMS IS MOST PERVASIVE MEDIUM
The mobile phone is the first thing we see when we wake up (as the majority of phone owners use it as the alarm) and after we wake up, before we brush our teeth - we check our text messages. It is the last thing we see before we go to sleep. We set our alarm and then, not that unusual, as we are about to fall asleep, a late SMS text message arrives. Gotta read it. Could be important. That sweet sound of the inbound text message. A study in Belgium revealed that over half of teenagers receive messages at night and 20% report sleeping problems because they are regularly woken up by an incoming text message. So if you need to wake up your child, don't set an alarm, send them a text message in the morning.
And we also do very literally take the phone to the bathroom - and send messages from there. This always sounds at first, like the behaviour of totally deranged people. Until you examine why. Why from the bathroom? First, many feel they are doing too much texting so they are a bit ashamed that they have the urge now. Can be work-related. You promise your spouce that no more work tonight, but still have to exchange a couple of quick messages with the colleague who is still at the office, etc. So take the phone to the bathroom, nobody will see.
Secondly it is the sound and the silence. If you talk on the phone while sitting on the toilet, others may hear you speaking. But nobody will know if you silently tap a few messages and read replies.
Third is secrecy. This is similar to the first one, but now the motivation is different. Its not that we're ashamed of the need to text, it is that we have some secretive communications that we don't want others to know about. Maybe a secret lover for an adult, infidelity yes; or perhaps a new lover for a teenager that the kid does not want parents and siblings to learn about. Perhaps something more sinister like work related to the black market - always more black market work in times of economic downturns.
And lastly there is the safety. The recent study from Australia revealed that one in three partners will snoop inside their partners' phones. And they do it when we're in the shower or taking a bath. So all the more reason to take the phone with us, so the temptation won't win over in the minds of the perennially curious.
SMS CHANGES OUR LIVES
SMS text messaging is a radical new way to communicate and we at this blog have been examining it for years, learning of the strange twists about it. The average person sending an email expects a reply in 24 hours. The average person sending and SMS text message expects a reply in 5 minutes. That kind of stuff.
Or consider its length. The maximum length of a standard SMS is 160 characters, including the spaces. It doesn't seem like much. But the average European or American now sends 4 text messages every day. Ignoring the abbreviated text that is common in SMS, just using normal writing, and assuming the average text message is half the length of the maximum ie 80 characters, the average text messaging user creates so much text, that it would fill a normal paperback book novel in three years of daily texting. The average Filippino (the world's most active text messaging users who now average 26 SMS sent per day per mobile phone subscriber) would create as much text to fill a new paperback novel every four months.
And really heavy users? Teenagers who are really heavily into texting can average 100 SMS sent per day. That amounts to enough original new text to create a new novel every five weeks. No wonder teenager youth novelists in Japan all start out by writing mobile books. It comes naturally to them.
IS IT SERIOUS FOR WORK OR ONLY FOR KIDS AND PLAY
The Americans got really into SMS only last year, with the hype around the Obama campaign. The Americans will be bewildered by some statistics and facts about SMS. Teh rest of the world has known SMS for this whole decade. For example the Tony Blair government was reported to use SMS text messages during cabinet meetings, so that his ministers and advisors could communicate with individuals in the same cabinet meeting, without distrurbing the meeting; as well as sending for urgent data communicating wtih government staff that was not in the meeting, in real time, while the meeting was going on. This was in 2004. When I worked at Nokia HQ, we saw this as normal behaviour among our execs in meetings in 2000. And of President Obama's Blackberry and his Twittering and SMS addiction? The Slovenian Prime Minister was sending out cabinet agendas via SMS - in 2001.
It is the most widely used data application on the planet. Kids who don't qualify for credit cards, make payments at McDonalds and Pizza Hut and inside Habbo Hotel, using their mobile phones. In most parts of Africa and many parts of Asia and Latin America, if you want to communicate with another person, they won't have an interent connection or PC; they won't have a landline. But they will have a mobile phone and most will be active users of SMS. There even are services for illiterate people where someone will read and write SMS messages for you.
This technology is changing how we communicate. You need to understand it. SMS is not like email, not like Twitter or the Blackberry. SMS is a different powerful communication method that we all can use in work and play. And 3 billlion people alread do.
Alll data in this blog, source is Tomi Ahonen Almanac 2009. You may freely quote this blog, the numbers and the source; and you may freely link to this blog with no further permissions.
UPDATE - 5 February 2010: I have written a total industry statistics update. See the full Mobile Industry Stats 2010