Sunday, 5th September 2004
IT has been nearly a decade since text messaging by handphone emerged as a cheap and easy channel for people to communicate with friends and family while on the move. SMS, or short message service, has already transformed the way many people - especially the young - spread gossip, make a dinner date or cast a vote for their favourite music video. Yet text messaging has become something more than a pop-culture fad: Worldwide, more than 360 billion text messages are sent annually, according to one estimate by the GSM Association, a wireless trade body. That's roughly one billion short messages each day - one for every six people on earth.
Here are some unusual ways SMS has been used:
Pass in front of a shoe store here and you may just receive an SMS offering you 10 per cent discounts once you present your 'electronic coupon'.
Real estate agents have begun using SMS to alert potential buyers to properties that are coming onto the market. Interested customers either send a text message back or call to arrange an appointment with a broker, saving valuable time in fast-moving property markets like Sydney.
Private Media, an adult-entertainment company in Barcelona, charges customers to send a text message to one of its 'stars'. Users then receive a personalised response as well as an access code for that star's portal on the company's website.
This month, Aviva, a British insurer, began testing a system of 'pay-as-you-go' auto insurance that uses SMS transmitters in cars that record how much their customers drive.
Acotel, a mobile technology company in Rome, operates a system for the Vatican that transmits the Pope's prayers and teachings via SMS to paying subscribers.
The police have used text messages to combat handphone thieves. Phones reported stolen are sent a message every few minutes saying that buying or selling a stolen handset is a crime.
This month, the suspected kidnapper of a 5-year-old girl was found with the help of citizens who circulated SMSes with the description and licence plate number of the stolen car he was driving.
Text messages also played a role in a widely publicised murder case here this year. A Pentecostal pastor from a village near Stockholm was sentenced to life in prison in July for persuading a mentally ill former nanny to shoot his wife, using text messages that purported to be from God. Investigators traced the messages to a phone owned by the pastor.