Is the SMS dead?

There are few things that exemplify the short shelf-life of technologies better than the perceived death of the short message service (SMS) in the face of more versatile and cheaper alternative messaging services. The question, however, is whether the SMS is really dying or is simply seeing a gradual decline in marketshare in an ever-increasing messaging market. There is little doubt that apps like BlackBerry messenger, WhatsApp and Nimbuzz have made alternative messaging much more attractive than SMS, but it seems the comfort factor with SMS and the fact that it is pre-loaded on all mobile phones is a very strong advantage.

According to the telecom regulator Trai, the mobile subscriber base in India has crossed 900 million. Over the past decade SMS as a communication tool has dominated the Indian telecom landscape in mobile marketing. But questions have been raised over the future of SMS due to the recent developments on the instant messaging front.

First, a look at the alternatives. Apps like WhatsApp offer free messaging to other phones with the app loaded—the only cost the user has to bear is what he has to pay his service provider for data usage. In India, with telecom companies falling over themselves to woo customers, 3G prices have plummeted, thus making these data-bases messaging services all the more attractive.

According to technology research firm Ovum, SMSs, which contributed around 57% of non-voice revenues for telecom companies around the world in 2009, are projected to contribute only 47% this year. It estimates alternative messaging services slashed $8.7 billion from telecom operators' revenues in 2010 and $13.9 billion in 2011. And it's not the only one saying so.

Portio Research, an independent research company, says that 7,844 billion SMSs were sent in 2011 globally, compared to 3,492 billion messages through alternate services. Due to the proliferation of smartphones, these number are projected to become 9,554 billion and a whopping 20,293 billion, respectively, by 2016.

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