back to article The modest father of SMS, who had much to be modest about

Matti Makkonen died last week and was celebrated as the father of SMS. He’s been described as being too modest to acknowledge his involvement. It seems, however, that the story of how Short Messaging came to be is far more complicated than we originally thought, and the system has many fathers. In fact, not only did Makkonen …

  1. Peter 26

    So it was mainly the French and German teams, one of which included Arthur Gidlow.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think you'll find it was probably jake who invented SMS and I'm sure he'll be along shortly to let us know all about it - the modest hero that he is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think you'll find that he was too busy accelerating pigeons, genetically modified in his home lab, to the speed of light so that he could get messages to people in giant-squid-ink on the vellum he makes from skinning his surplus calves.

  3. theModge

    Isn't all engineering progress like this?

    I've very rarely seen things turn out to be "one great man". One person has the idea. They run it past another who likes it but points out major flaws. They think some more, come up with a plan and give it to a team to implement, who notice the plan doesn't quite work and ask for permission to do it differently again....

    That's how things have gone in my world anyway.

    1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Re: Isn't all engineering progress like this?

      Yes; if you think the Spitfire was the icon of WW2 you'd be surprised how well designed it was that by 1939 they still had to find a way of producing them. Kind of highlights British Management to think that the RAF thought it was so good by then they ceased all thought of alternative specie.

      After that we invented the motor bike and did it so well that everyone was the same one. And continued being the same one until the motor cycle industry went broke trying to sell motorcycles that didn't work in the rain.

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    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In fact they ought possibly to be a little bit embarrassed about not seeing the potential and not making it generally available sooner.

  6. Uberseehandel

    Its a miracle that the MNOs allowed SMS to be available to subscribers

    At various times of my life I have been somewhat involved with the issue of mobile phone roaming and can state that SMS was dismissed as not important long after all users understood how useful it is/was.

    True to form, the MNOs, including Telefonica/O2, similarly dismissed the notion of subscriber demand for mobile data.

    When working with the folk in Carrier Services at the various MNOs, the roaming team has to negotiate not only roaming agreements with other operators but also wholesale capacity deals, which don't sound very exciting but provide significant revenue and profit for many operators, and the lion's share for a significant few.

    In order to negotiate these deals, which often roll over from year to year, it is important to understand where there is growing demand in the market and to make sure one is covered against customer demand outstripping one's negotiated usage levels, which results in having to buy expensive additional capacity on the "spot" market, to borrow an analogy from the energy suppliers.

    Virtually all the MNOs I have come across around the world, with the notable exception of NTT-Docomo, have lacked a technical understanding of the future of their industry. Amongst the legacies of the state owned telephone companies to the new mobile phone industry has been has been extreme short sighted conservatism and a deserved reputation for stodginess, which makes hiring quality graduate new entrants extremely difficult.

    BT was amongst the stodgiest of the PTTs and its staff acquired a certain reputation for choosing to under deliver capabilities, in both the fixed and mobile telephony spheres. The BT version of ISDN was a subset of what most of the rest of the world used, for example.

    The defective BT version of ISDN infected thinking about GSM, which has been mostly designed by various people and organisations found in Europe. From the outset GSM handsets were supposed to have ISDN BRI capability (2 B channels and 1 D channel). With BT's dismissive attitude to ISDN, the MNOs, new to GSM seized on the reservations of some of the prime movers behind GSM and given a plausible sounding argument about how dual voice lines would allow users to evade the excessive roaming charges that were then common.

    As a result the MNOs have been lagging the market ever since the inception of GSM. I cannot recall meeting a single MNO staffer who saw any demand for either SMS or data services. I've given up waiting for a GSM handset that is really capable.

    Working abroad SMS was a godsend, it was far cheaper to use this service than to use voice on our mobiles. Some folk had monthly roaming bills of over GBP 900. I avoided this problem by using SMS and buying a local pre-paid SIM and forwarding my deskphone to the new prepaid handset.. To make a call, I just picked up the phone in whoever's office I was in (nobody minded these were phone companies). As a tip to anybody doing this today, I'd say store all your phone numbers with the full international dialing prefix (+44 for Britain), and make sure that the contacts are stored in the handset, not on the SIM. That way when you cross from, one country to another, you simply swap SIMs and advice those who need to call you of your new number by SMS.

    1. Don Dumb
      Go

      Re: Its a miracle that the MNOs allowed SMS to be available to subscribers

      @Uberseehandel - "As a tip to anybody doing this today, I'd say store all your phone numbers with the full international dialing prefix (+44 for Britain), and make sure that the contacts are stored in the handset, not on the SIM. That way when you cross from, one country to another, you simply swap SIMs and advice those who need to call you of your new number by SMS."

      I agree that it's good practice to save numbers with the international dialling prefix.

      My tip to save roaming costs - 3. My contract is with 3 Mobile. They cover some countries with an 'at home' provision, all calls back to the UK and all data consumed simply comes out of the contract allowance as if you are at home in the UK. I've been abroad a few times and spent very little on phone calls as mostly I'm phoning home or using data. It has eliminated one of the annoyances with travelling.

      1. Uberseehandel

        Re: Its a miracle that the MNOs allowed SMS to be available to subscribers

        I take your point about 3 Mobile, and some others, however, when dealing with people in a European country it is only polite to be able to ask them to call one on a local number. I don't like asking the laundry in downtown Bratislava to make international phone calls to tell me my shirts are ready for pickup, or the taxi is waiting downstairs.

  7. Graham Marsden
    Facepalm

    "Pizza had nothing to do with SMS"

    And, to emphasise this, El Reg has a picture of someone, with a phone, eating pizza.

    Right, so glad to get that sorted out...

    1. Uberseehandel

      Re: "Pizza had nothing to do with SMS"

      "And, to emphasise this, El Reg has a picture of someone, with a phone, eating pizza."

      That is somebody's idea of a joke, unfortunately. All Vulture subs should spend an internship at Private Eye to learn something about the art of the well executed feeble jike

      1. Simon Rockman

        Re: "Pizza had nothing to do with SMS"

        It's ironic. And seeing as I often get praise for the great stuff the subs do, I'll put my hand up as the person who chose the pic.

        Simon

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Pizza had nothing to do with SMS"

      Well, if you read the article, there was a comment made about them not coming up with the idea over pizza.

      1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        Re: "Pizza had nothing to do with eating phones

        But if someone had come up with the idea even if unsuccessful, I'd like to see a picture of one.

  8. JanCeuleers

    ISDN had user-to-user signalling

    An ISDN feature that predates SMS is user-to-user signalling (UUS). It comes in three flavours: UUS1 involves the ability for short messages to be included in the setup and cleardown messages (and the service involves the network transporting these messages end-to-end. UUS2 involves the ability to send such messages during the alerting phase of a call, i.e. while the "phone is ringing" (or the equivalent for a data call). Finally UUS3 involves the ability to exchange text messages during the active phase of a call.

    In all cases, as you can see, are UUS messages associated with a call whereas SMS messages are not. But it would have been possible to leverage UUS1 for the purpose of implementing an SMS service (i.e. a call setup message that transports UUS1 and with implicit cleardown.

    UUS was not at all widely used or supported by public networks. One potential use case was for signalling interworking between PBXes that used the public ISDN for interconnection (as opposed to leased lines).

  9. Sand

    Plus ça change...

    Agree with theModge: this is the way it always works. All credit to ElReg for doing some digging on this and making the mess of 'invention' and/or 'innovation' visible.

    A whole bunch of people from many places and organisations are generally involved. There is no epiphany, no eureka by a man in a bathtub (except in historical re-tellings that tend to shave the corners off most of the work, the difficulties, as well as forget most of the people, not to mention the time, involved).

    Now, could we all stop with the 'Fathers of Technology' nonsense?? Do we really need to keep creating mythical parents for technology? I, for one, much prefer the intrigue, politics, social and multinational mess that is how we struggle to make standards, infrastructures, and the technologies that form with them. That's where the story is, for me...

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      It's where the story is, for sure, but that story doesn't sell.

      Now, put in a backstabbing and some juicy bits in black stockings and NOW you have a STORY.

  10. MaldwynP

    OK it was me.

    The first text (data) message was actually sent by myself in Bournemouth, of all places, in 1981 using two Telxon hand held devices and a nearby Hutchinson Orange Mobile mast. I had worked on earlier C based code that had been designed by Motorola Canada. The set up was rushed to Singapore for the big tech exhibition and was the first demonstration of sending data messages by mobile technology. Having also having written it later for Vodafone and others, they used it later in the GSM form to create the marketing idea of texting. Others claimed the honour later and it seemed to make them happy.

    Dr Maldwyn Palmer

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OK it was me.

      "...in 1981 using two Telxon hand held devices and a nearby Hutchinson Orange Mobile mast..."

      Mmmm...Hutchison Orange, the first UK digital mobile network, formed in 1994 (supporting same-network SMS from the start) after the demise of Hutchison Rabbit in 1993 (itself founded 1992). You forgot the joke icon?

      1. MaldwynP

        Re: OK it was me.

        Who said digital? The first signals were analogue from a a mast that Orange had specifically put up for me in Poole.

  11. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Spec Writing is not "inventing"

    If spec writing is inventing, then watch this:

    • [PS299] The vehicle shall be capable of maintaining a forward speed relative to any observer and within any frame of reference of not less than 400,000,000 meters per second.

    ...or...

    • [PIDS 42] The device, with no input whatsoever, shall continuously produce 100,000 kilowatts of energy.

    Hey! This is easy!!

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