Texting supremacy crown passes to IP as numbers for SMS messages decline

SMS text messaging just turned 20 years old, but the technology is already being put out to pasture.

Now those free services that use wireless Internet or carrier data plans to send messages, which include apps such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, are next year expected to surpass SMS as the texting tech of choice, according to a report released Wednesday by mobile enterprise company Tyntec and GigaOm Research.

Remember your irresponsible friend who, back in the day, racked up hundreds of dollars in 10-cent texts each month? Teenagers with cell phones that came without texting plans wreaked havoc on their parents’ bills.

We could have all avoided being grounded–I mean, our friends could have stayed out of trouble–if free IP messages existed in the early days of texting.

This year is the first that avid texters are expected to send an even number of IP and SMS messages–about 10 trillion, according to the study. Just two years ago, smartphone users sent just over 2 trillion IP messages compared to more than 8 trillion SMS messages.

IP-based texting expected to overtake SMS texting in 2014Source: Tyntec
IP-based text messaging expected to overtake SMS messaging in 2014

“When [SMS] was invented in the '90s, it was more like a waste product,” said Giovanni Benini, Tyntec’s director of product management. “Nobody expected people to start texting like crazy. We see for the first time that this growth is reduced, not because people don’t want to text anymore, but because there’s a new technology coming up.”

SMS versus IP

SMS texts used to be a huge moneymaker for wireless carriers, because they are transmitted leveraging existing cell phone towers and cost carriers almost nothing to send. The rise of IP messaging has cut into carriers’ revenues; in 2011, mobile operators worldwide saw a 9 percent drop in messaging revenue. That trend is expected to continue.

Tyntec's Benini said carriers will hang on to SMS texts and promote unlimited texting plans bundled with voice and data–at least for the next five years. Businesses are also sticking to SMS as a reliable way to reach a wide subset of customers.

But IP messaging is expected to far surpass SMS by 2016–16 trillion versus 11 trillion messages, according to the Tyntec/GigaOm study. The rise of virtual phone numbers, which IP messaging companies can create without piggybacking on carriers, contributes to that growth. Teens who once would have racked up huge overage fees can now turn their iPod Touches and tablets into phones without buying text or data plans.

Rejoice, parents.

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