Vale Matti Makkonen, SMS dreamer

Finnish engineer sends last TXT

Matti Makkonen, a figure widely held to have influenced the development of SMS, has died at the relatively young age of 63.

According to BT, it took some years for Makkonen's pitch to Finland's Telecoms and Postal agency in 1984 to become a reality in 1992.

It took even longer for SMS to really hit its straps, because carriers the world over were reluctant to send messages across the network boundary.

Makkonen told the BBC the other reason for SMS's success was Nokia, whose model 2010 phone made SMS easy to use.

Once that changed, SMS became the harbinger of things to come, changing mobile networks from a primarily telephony platform and driving the start of the mobile data revolution.

Analysts like Portio Research reckon SMS peaked with 7.76 trillion messages globally in 2012, and in 2013 UK analyst Pamela Clark-Dickson (then of Informa) told the BBC OTT apps (19 billion messages a day) had overtaken SMS in 2012 (17.6 billion messages a day).

Celebrating 20 years of SMS, GTX noted in 2012 that Makkonen never patented the idea, and only owned up to his 1984 idea when tracked down by journalists from the Helsingin Sanomat.

The end of SMS will be less sudden than its that of its “father”, though, since the bundling of free texts with most phone plans still makes it an attractive channel.

Still, there's no doubt that texting changed the world of telecommunications, and although its 160-character limit (SMS sent using a seven-bit character set are limited to 160, or 140 if using eight-bit) made it the most expensive data channel on a unit basis, it couldn't be beat for utility.

SMS' – and Makkonen's – influence will arguably be eternal. Not only did SMS spawn text-speak and auto-correct, it also provided a template for social media services like Twitter. ®

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