Number Of UK Text Messages Sent Falls For First Time

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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Online IM services such as WhatsApp increasingly replacing traditional SMS

Figures released today by Deloitte have revealed that the number of text messages sent by UK mobile users has fallen for the first time ever. Facing increasing competition from online instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, the number of traditional texts sent last year is estimated at 145bn, a decline of around 7bn messages compared to last year.

The report claims that 160bn instant messages were sent in Britain last year, outstripping the number of texts for the first time, with the total number of SMS messages sent forecast to fall again to around 140bn in 2014.

Paul Lee, Deloitte’s head of telecoms research, said of the findings, “This is the first decline in texting in the UK since texting was invented. We have reached a tipping point. But the usage of mobile phones to send messages is stronger than ever. This year, trillions of instant messages will be sent in place of a text message.”

texting smartphone SMS ©shutterstock B CalkinsBigger and better

By the end of 2014, Deloitte estimate that over 300bn instant messages will be sent in the UK, more than double the annual number of texts. Worldwide, the report predicts that 50bn instant messages will be sent each day – 18 trillion over the next 12 months – compared with 21bn texts.

One of the main reasons behind the UK’s decline is the move away from traditional SMS-based messaging towards online instant-messaging services, especially by young people, who make up the majority of users. Native apps such as Blackberry’s BBM and Apple’s iMessage, whose widespread usage was spearheaded by young people, are now developing and expanding, with companies such as WhatsApp, which last year claimed to be bigger than Twitter, providing a wide range of options.

Messaging apps are increasingly aimed at the lucrative youth market, using the ability to easily send photos and videos, the use of vibrant emoticons or emojis, and cheaper pricing to lure new customers. With smartphone contracts now increasingly providing unlimited data usage over call and text quotas, such online messaging services are becoming cheaper and more popular.

Deloitte’s report also says older people are owning and using mobile devices more. The number of senior citizens with a smartphone will have increased from 29 percent in 2012 to 47 percent by late 2014. As older people become more in tune with technology, this figure is set to grow, catching up with the national average of smartphone ownership, which will reach 68 percent this year, by 2020.

Unsurprisingly, older smartphone users are not contributing as much to the rise in instant messaging as their younger counterparts. Just 13 percent of older users used instant messaging in 2013, with most preferring to rely on standard SMS messaging, according to the report.  Many of these older smartphone users won’t even use their devices to their full benefit either, as the report predicting that a quarter of older smartphone owners would not download a single app in 2014.

“Smartphones have a dazzling array of features and functions, and some of this functionality is not straightforward to use,” said Lee, “Apps are daunting, particularly when there is no filter by age.”

Despite its struggles, the SMS market still remains a profitable one for operators, with the report claiming it remains worth $100bn a year due to its ability to work in any area on almost any device.

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