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Meet Neil Papworth, the happenstance pioneer of SMS

By Jules Wang December 5, 2017, 1:09 am

“Merry Christmas” was the first message that was ever sent 25 years and 2 days ago by Neil Papworth of Sema Group Telecoms to Vodafone UK director Richard Jarvis. The message was typed on a computer and sent through the finalized Short Message Service center that Papworth had a hand in building to an Orbitel 901 that rang all of a sudden at an office Christmas party.

In what’s apparently the only autobiography on the event, Papworth explains that while the GSM Association had a texting standard for mobile phones dating back to 1985, he just happened to be the one who was lucky enough to play in the first sandbox that was once thought as just a replacement to pagers. Indeed, the phone, like many others, didn’t have the capability to respond to the text.

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That would soon change. With web-based messengers, emoji, Twitter’s original character limit and a whole lot more coming to fruition on the back this first domino, we are only now in slow transition to a cellular standard that will be able encapsulate more media.

The pictures we’re using of Papworth comes from his own site. They are the only three he has up. He looks somewhat fed up from having to explain his involvement in the marvel of text messaging, perhaps, over and over for the multiple anniversaries prior. It seems that his webpage was last updated on November 21, 2012. If you’re lucky, you might see Papworth noshing down on curry at Mantra in Longueuil near Montreal.

Seems like a decent enough chap, though. Decent enough to send the first mobile text message 25 years ago.

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