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Text messaging reaches its 20th birthday with 150bn texts sent a year

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Text messaging has officially turned 20 years old today, with the first ever mobile text message sent back on December 3 1992 when Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old telecoms engineer, used his PC to send a simple greeting ‘Merry Christmas’ to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.

Ofcom, which has marked the occasion with some facts and figures about how things have changed in the last 20 years, has stated that the average UK user now sends about 50 text messages a week. In 2011 more than 150 billion text messages were sent in the UK, which was almost three times the amount sent in 2006.

The research shows that texting is currently most prolific among those aged 12-15, who are said to send an average of 193 texts every week, a figure that has more than doubled from a year ago.

Among the 16 to 24-year-old age range, 90 percent text on a daily basis to keep in touch with friends and family. Using fingers seems to be much more popular than speaking for this younger age group, with 67 percent of them making mobile phone calls on a daily basis, and 63 percent actually talking face to face.

There is also a gender split, older girls (12-15 year olds) are reported to text more than boys, sending 221 messages a week on average compared to boys of the same age, who send 164. Even 8-11 year olds are managing to clock up 41 texts each week, a number that has nearly doubled since 2011, says Ofcom’s study.

However, there are signs of a decline in SMS (short message service) texts being sent. Ofcom says the first half of 2012 saw two quarterly declines in the number of SMS messages sent in the UK (quarter 4 of 2011 peaked at 39.7 billion, by Q1 2012 it was 39.1 billion and in Q2 2012, 38.5 billion).

Rather than communicating less, the regulating body has suggested that alternative forms of mobile communication are on the rise, such as instant messaging and social networking. Given that it’s just as easy and convenient to IM or Tweet from a smartphone as send a text, it’s likely that these web-based apps are taking over from traditional SMS.

“For the first time in the history of mobile phones, SMS volumes are showing signs of decline,” said Ofcom’s James Thickett. “However the availability of a wider range of communications tools like instant messaging and social networking sites, mean that people might be sending fewer SMS messages, but they are ‘texting’ more than ever before.”

Is a good old text still the best way for you to get messages to friends and family or are IM and social networking taking over? Tell us via the comments boxes below or on these new-fangled Twitter and Facebook feeds.

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