Faster than a locomotive, leap over giant buildings - yes, its... SMS! (via Kate's posterous)

March 25, 2010

Faster than a locomotive, leap over giant buildings - yes, its... SMS! Text messaging has twice the users of email, twice the size of television

Mobile phone based messaging is 2.6 times as big by users, as email. Mobile phone based messaging has twice as many active users as the total worldwide population of television sets. And personal computers of any kind including netbooks? Mobile phone messaging is three times as big as the total global installed base of any kind of personal computer including netbooks. And this is not 'wireless email' no, nor is it 'twittering' or mobile 'instant messaging'. No, the most used mobile messaging system - that is, the most used data application on the planet -  is SMS text messaging.

This blog article is your mobile messaging primer updated for 2010. And I can now tell you for a fact, that nobody is safe. Even the last luddites will take to it. That uncle of yours who says 'never' - even he will be converted. We now have the evidence! Its about time to take a look at mobile phone based messaging for March 2010. This is another 'primer' blog posting, in other words its detailed and fact-filled, so it won't be short. Go get yourself a cup of coffee before we start.


We've reported in the book and on this blog for many years already that SMS text messaging is the most widely used data application on the planet. Consider email. Email was invented in 1971, so it has had 39 years of life. In those four decades email has spread globally and has 1.4 billion active users today (said Netcraft Feb 2010). Note this is far more than the total number of personal computers in use worldwide, as obviously there are many who share a PC at home, or use one at an internet cafe or at work or the university etc. Still, in 39 years, email has achieved 1.4 Billion users which is 21% of the total population on the planet. Very impressive. In fact, email has more users than fixed landline telephones (at 1.15 Billion and in gradual decline). Did you notice that? More send messages than talk on a fixed landline worldwide. A very impressive achievement indeed.

Email was the first 'killer application' for the internet. It was a vital link in the expansion of the personal computer from the office to the home. It was the first reason why 'normal people' wanted to get an internet connection (and eventually was superceded as a reason to get online by search and browsing, and now social networking like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc)

That is our context. 39 years, 1.4 Billion users. Now take SMS text messaging. Mobile phone based messaging was invented by Matti Makkonen then of Telecom Finland (part of TeliaSonera today) and my former mentor when we both were employed by Nokia later in his career. Matti's invention was first technically used in the UK when machine-originated SMS were used for technical testing purposes in 1991. The first commercial and consumer use of SMS was in Finland on the Radiolinja GSM network (part of Elisa, another of my former employers). The first reported use of SMS to send a text message from one phone to another phone was by Nokia employee Riku Pihkonen, who did this on obviously a Nokia phone and the Radiolinja network in 1993.

So SMS text messaging is less than 17 years old today. Literally less than half as old as email. How has SMS fared? Spreading like wildfire, SMS became the world's most widely used data application. It was used by half of all mobile phone subscribers by 2002. That year SMS user number shot past the total worldwide count of email users. SMS hit one Billion active users by 2004 and two Billion active users by 2006. The juggernaut continued its relentless climb and by 2008 SMS had passed 3 billion active users (Ericsson 2009) and earlier this year we heard from messaging solutions giant Clickatell that SMS is nearing its 4 Billionth user (Clickatell Jan 2010). My consultancy, TomiAhonen Consulting measured the mobile phone messaging active user base at 3.6 Billion mobile phone subscribers at the end of 2009. That was 78% of all mobile phone subscribers on the planet. Towering over email, SMS has 2.6 times more users than email. The SMS user base is 53% of the total population on the planet.

Even the last 'laggards' are getting onboard, with for example over two thirds of Americans now active users of SMS. It was at 65% of US cellphone subscribers two years ago and growing strongly (Wirefly Apr 2008) and American consumers now prefer sending SMS text messages to making phone calls on their cellphones - another universal trend by the way (CTIA 2009). In advanced markets like Britain 87% of all subscribers send SMS (Carphone Warehouse 2009), China 90% of subscribers send SMS (China Mobile Sept 2009) and in Pakistan 90% of subscribers use SMS (Daily Times of Pakistan Feb 2010). In other "mid-markets" where SMS is not quite universal, it still used by the majority of mobile phone subscribers like in Brazil where SMS is already used by 79% of mobile phone subscribers (Acision Dec 2009)


Lets put this in numbers we can appreciate. The limit of a standard SMS text message is 160 characters (if you're familiar with Twitter, Twitter's limit is 140 characters). Now, the average user in the Philippines send 26 SMS text messages per day. If we assume the average length of an actual text message sent in the Philippines is 80 characters in length - half the full length - then the Filippino population produce that much new original text - by triple-tapping on their phones - that each average user would create a new book, yes book, in the number of words produced ...every four months. So every average Filippino writes that much on their phones, they're creating the equivalent of 3 new books every year. And thats not the heaviest users of SMS, no not by a long shot. Heavy users, older teenagers and young adults from the UK to South Korea to the USA have been measured sending on average 100 SMS per day.

If you send 100 text messages per day, and then you obviously would typically do that with friends who are also heavily into SMS text messaging, so you'd roughly speaking receive also the same amount - another 100 SMS text messages arriving on your phone daily - that means you're either reading or writing a text message every 5 minutes of all hours you are awake in the day (every single day of the year).


SMS text messaging is a universal trend. It is proven to be addictive in university studies on mobile phone addiction from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium to Queensland University in Australia. Proven not just to be addictive, it is as addictive as cigarette smoking! (so there is absolutely no prospect of going back. Undestand this paragraph - SMS text messaging is proven to be addictive in university studies and as addictive as cigarette smoking - that means, that anyone who ever 'gets the habit' won't be able to stop). By the way, who was it who first told you in a book that SMS was showing signs of being addictive? Its yours truly, in my second book m-Profits in 2002. If you were around to read that book back then, and you bothered to follow up with my writing, you'd be a mobile messaging mogul and millionaire now (as some of my readers of course are).

As of this January the world was sending 12 Billion SMS text messages every day, which is half a billion messages every hour, or 9 million text messages every minute or 150,000 text messages sent globally every second of every day. Each of those is a paid or charged message. 150 thousand paid messages sent every second. To put it another way, this industry earns another million dollars of revenues - every 4.5 minutes


So how big is it? SMS text messaging passed 100 Billion dollars in annual revenues two years ago and has now passed 113 Billion dollars in annual revenues for 2009. How big is that? For context, the global music industry is worth about 20 Billion dollars. Hollywood box office revenues are about 25 Billion dollars. Videogaming software income and console sales, combined, are worth about 40 Billion dollars. Internet based content incomes, such as paying for premium content like multiplayer gaming like World of Warcraft or Second Life, and various adult oriented services etc (excluding advertising income, so this is the directly paid revenues), is worth about 27 Billion dollars. Add all of those together, global music spending, global videogame spending, global cinema box office revenue and global internet content revenues and we are at 112 Billion dollars. SMS text messaging alone is worth 113 Billion dollars. And while music industry is in a death-spiral and most media are losing customers and losing a lot of money in 2009 when the global economy suffered, SMS text messaging revenues users by 11%, grew traffic by 27% and grew revenues by 7%.

Or to take another industry, SMS text messaging generates as much revenues as total worldwide radio broadcasting industry. Or closer to home for me, SMS texting alone earns more than the worldwide book publishing industry. That is a lot of money. And if we hark back to email, for comparison, internet based email earns less than 5% of what SMS earns. Yes, SMS text messaging is 20 times larger by revenues than email. The little brother has truly grown past its older sibling.



But yes, how far can it go? We all have that parent or uncle or boss who hates SMS (probably hates all mobile phones) and totally refuses to use SMS. It seems like there would be a part of society who will 'never get it'. For that, we now have absolute evidence. Research & Markets have just reported in February 2010, that Finland's total user base of SMS has reached... drumroll... 90% of the... drumroll... total... drumroll... ...population !!! Not 90% of the mobile phone "subscriber base", not 90% of mobile phone 'users'. In Finland SMS has now reached an active user base that is 90% of the total population!

Finland is where it all started, and now 17 years later, we are at the point where nine out of ten Finns are active users of SMS text messaging. Why is this such an astonishing number? We need to look at the total age pyramid of Finland to get its significance: 8% of the Finnish population is too young to finish first grade in school. So 8% of the Finnish population can not be expected to use SMS because they have not yet learned to read and write.

Now it truly gets astonishing. Yes, 92% of the total population of Finland have once learned how to read and write (Finland was one of the first countries in the world to reach 100% literacy, even the USA is not at 100% literacy). And now Reserach & Markets measures that 90% of the total Finnish population are active users of SMS. That means, that out of the population which is 'old enough' to know how to read and write, a massive 98% of that population uses SMS! That is truly a massive statistic. It is for all practical purposes 'everybody' because - in that last 2% who do not use SMS but who are old enough to have gone to school at some point, we have people with permanent disabilities that they cannot ever use SMS - they are either totally blind or 'legally' blind, and/or have amputations in arms/hands/fingers and unable to use a phone keypad. That last 2% includes those who have mental disabilities that they cannot learn to read or write. That last 2% includes the old and infirm, including those who are so old their eyesight cannot handle looking at a phone screen even with eyeglasses, or their hands are so hurt by arthritis they can't hold a phone. And that last 2% includes those who have reached those stages of old age like Altzheimer's that they can't remember people anymore and can't thus use a phone.

Yes, Finland is where it started and today, out of all people who know how to read and write, and who have the physical abilities to read, to write (and to remember), we have essentially 100% adoption of SMS text messaging.

I told you its addictive. And if so, it means it is only a matter of time before everybody will be doing it. If Finland is at this point today, you can be 100% sure, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, Italy, Austria, etc are only a few steps behind. The rest of the world will follow. Every country it will become true, even in the USA and Canada, that every economically viable person who knows how to read and write, will sooner or later discover the immense power of mobile phone based messaging - and will use it. And then its only a matter of time before they become addicted to it.


So, your young adult friend just excused himself or herself and went to the bathroom. Did you notice that the young adult took their phone with them? If its a public restroom like at a restaurant, and someone happens to be listening - they won't hear your friend talking on the phone, no. We don't take the phone to the toilet to make phone calls. No, we use the phone in the bathroom to read and send messages. We can feed our messaging habit privately without drawing any attention. Nobody gets to eaves-drop on the discussion. And if the phone keypad and other 'beeps' are set to silent, nobody will even know what we're doing in there. As to teenagers, they are brazenly willing to send SMS text messages to someone else while they are talking to you. I am not kidding. 48% of British teenagers admit to doing this, sending text messages simultaneously while carrying on a conversation with someone else like their parents, teachers etc (Carphone Warehouse 2006).



Then we have those, still many 'luddites' in North America still, and occasional senior management in miscellaneous other laggard countries - where they wonder whether SMS is suited for business communications. This myth was destroyed early in the past decade in the UK, where typically very conservative British business executives discovered SMS and started to use it in business. Early statistics from the MDA (Mobile Data Association) reported that the majority of UK based executives used SMS for work - receiving as many as 40 work related SMS messages daily - and that British executives considered SMS their most valuable time-management tool. Think about it, the only resource a manager cannot replicate, is his own time. And if 'conservative' British executives felt SMS was their most valuable time-management tool, perhaps you should consider if this might be true.

Mobile phone based messaging is so powerful and necessary for modern high-speed management, that Barack Obama insisted he had to get to keep his Blackberry. That was in the Spring of 2009. Now consider Britain - UK former Prime Minister Tony Blair was using SMS in his government meetings back in 2004, five years before Obama brought it to US top government use. And how did Blair use it - he had approved the use of SMS during meetings, between Cabinet members, to allow them to communciate silently across the table - without disturbing the meeting. This is modern management. Not 'forbidding the Blackberries' as we still hear of some US CEO's decreeing - but rather to embrace the modern high-speed communications. Blair also had his Cabinet members use SMS to retrive data in real time from subordinates who were outside the meeting. But did Tony Blair invent this innovation? No. The Slovenian Prime Minister was using SMS back in 2000.


Why SMS, why not email? Think about it. How urgently do you respond to emails? 160 Characters measured in 2007 that we respond to email in 24 hours, but we respond to SMS in 5 minutes. How much faster is SMS? It is 288 times faster in response time than email! That is like comparing air travel speeds of a hot air balloon to a jet plane. SMS is the jet age of interpersonal communications. We have similar findings from 2008 that SMS is read and responded to within 15 minutes (Experian 2008).


SMS is the most discrete form of communication and it is the fastest form of communication. No wonder kids use SMS to try to cheat in tests. No wonder business executives use SMS in management. What started once as a 'teenager thing' has now reached the total population, every age of those who know how to read and write. And its not a consumer thing anymore, it has a valid place used in business the world over.


But the most widely used data application is not just a messaging platform for person-to-person communication. The first commercial or 'business' use of SMS was in Business-to-Consumer use, when Merita Bank of Finland offered banking balance alerts via SMS in 1995. We would see total banking solutions via SMS from the Philippines within a few years. Aamulehti the Finnish daily newspaper offered SMS based headlines from 1996. The first SMS-enabled vending machines were installed in Finland in 1998. Today most of Finland's vending machines accept mobile payments, the total count of such vending machines is past 1,000. Globally vending machine vendors are falling in love with the idea from Poland to Hong Kong.

1998 was the year the first paid 'premium' content was delivered via 'premium' SMS, which is also the birth of the 'mobile internet' or the 'mobile VAS industry' (VAS means Value-Add Services). That first paid premium content sold to the phone was the ringing tone, offered by Saunalahti (now part of Elisa) in Finland. A year later NTT DoCoMo would offer the first full 'mobile internet' service in Japan. But the first paid downloaded content to phones started here, in Finland with the ringing tone - delivered via premium SMS, twelve years ago.

In 1999 the first SMS-enabled mobile parking systems went live in Norway. In 2000 Finland offered the first SMS based advertising on MainosTV 3's mobile phone news headline service, totally free but advertising sponsored. 2000 saw the first use of SMS to pay for train tickets in Austria. 2001 brought us the first use of SMS based Check-in by Finnair. In 2002 we saw the first use of city public transportation by SMS when Helsinki Public Transport offered its tram and subway single tickets via SMS.

The list is too long for me to cover every example. Since then we've seen SMS-enabled payments of video rentals, lotteries, movie tickets, gym lockers, etc. SMS has been used to deliver alerts from libraries reminding you that your book is due, to hairdressers and dentists and doctors allowing you to book and reschedule appointments. SMS can be used to pay for the London congestion charge and is now used widely around the world for various charities such as relief after the hurricane that hit Haiti. Finland was the first country to adopt SMS as the nation's primary alert method for disaster communications and SMS has since been used across the globe to deliver national emergency warnings of anything from Tsunamis to the Bird Flu. And SMS 'notification' is legally binding as the required notification of a divorce in some Muslim countries. SMS acknowledgement is now legally binding as an electronic signature in contracts in Spain, and Estonia becomes the first country to accept SMS votes in a national election this year.

Some adoption numbers tell the tale in perhaps a more compelling way. United Airlines just announced that it is adopting mobile phone based check in, in the USA. A half dozen airlines in North America already do so (I believe Air Canada was first on that continent). But where they just are starting on this journey, we've seen mobile check-in in Europe and Asia for most of the decade, on airlines from Lufthansa to Japan Airlines to Norwegian. How about the leader? Finnair reported in 2009 that over half of its passengers, on its busy routes, use its mobile phone based check-in, which now includes multiple ways to access the services not just SMS, but also MMS, WAP and 2D barcodes (QR Codes). What of the public transport? Helsinki public transport reported in 2008 that 55% of passengers who bought single tickets on the trams and subway, used its SMS based tickets.

In Kenya, the SMS based banking services that launched only 3 years ago, have been so successful, that today 49% of all banking accounts in Kenya use mobile phone (SMS based) banking. Still, its not just Kenya. In South Africa you can get your total paycheck paid to you by SMS. In India the utilties like gas, electricity and water, will give you a 5% discount if you pay by SMS rather than by cash. Slovenia became the first European country where essentially every consumer payment could be done by SMS including taxis, restaurants, groceries, public transport etc. Parking was a particularly popular solution and I had ever more impressive numbers, until Estonia nailed the ultimate number - today 100% of parking in Estonia is paid for by SMS. No coins, no credit cards, no other payments, only SMS. They thus became the first country with the first (albeit small) industry - parking payments - that has cannibalized 100% of all other payment methods. SMS is the only way.


What of content? SMS delivers news, entertainment, information and advertising - 74% of mobile phone subscribers in India receive SMS based advertising (Gfk & Limbo 2008). Worldwide in 2008 the total population of mobile phone users who received advertising passed 1.5 Billion recepients (Juniper Apr 2008). That was only 42% of all mobile phone owners at the time, but it meant that from 2008, more 'eyeballs' on the planet received ads on their phones than received ads in newspapers, magazines, the internet or even TV. And by far the vast majority of that mobile phone based advertising today is still SMS text messages globally. My consultancy TomiAhonen Consulting measured the total audience at the end of 2009 to be 1.8 Billion people which is only 39% of all mobile phone owners, yet is 50% more than the total global population of personal computers in use, including desktops, laptops, notebooks and netbooks.

Its not just media content delivered to the phone. SMS is used as a powerful interactive channel for older legacy mass media like TV, radio, print etc. 21% of UK television viewers vote regularly on reality-TV shows (M:Metrics 2006) which an impressive number until we go to Asia where we find numbers like India, where 44% of the mobile phone subscriber base has voted on a TV show using SMS (Vital Analytics 2009).

And while I have been an advocate, active user and student of SMS for over 15 years now, this messaging system keeps surprising me too.  SMS text messaging is the only mass media channel that will reach us in our sleep. Yes, we may fall asleep to CNN or MTV on the TV set - but that won't wake us up if something happened. It will just play in the background until perhaps we have the type of TV set that turns itself off after an hour or something. And the morning? We can wake up to the clock-radio beside our bed - and thus wake up to radio - but we have to set the alarm ourselves. Radio cannot turn itself on and wake us up. SMS reaches us when we sleep.

The Catholic University of Leuven study reported that 40% of all teenagers wake up to incoming SMS text messages occasionally. But that study was years ago and focused on teenagers. Now we have more astonishing numbers. Lightspeed Research surveyed the UK population and found that 67% of British citizens sleep with the phone in bed or by the bedside table (obviously using the phone as their alarm clock too). That is not an astonishing number (matches similar research from before) but this is - only 14% of the British population will turn their phones to silent for the night! So 53% of the British population sleep with their phone ringing on, and the phone in bed with them (Lightspeed June 2009). Very literally SMS text messaging is the only mass medium that can reach us while we sleep and wake us up in terms of an emergency or any kind of breaking news.



And then we talk of our 'mobile' (or our 'cell') being a 'phone' ie mobile phone or cell phone. Yes, the 'phone' part of mobile comes from the fixed landline side, where what was originally called the 'voice telegraph' soon earned its own name as 'telephone' from the Greek as tele fon, long distance talk. Its a talking device, a phone. Sure it is. Except what was true of the fixed landline, is NOT true of the mobile. I am trying to learn to call it a 'mobile' and not a 'mobile phone' or 'cellphone' for that very reason. We are seeing an increasing proportion of mobile phone owners, who do not own their device for its voice call purposes. They consider SMS text messaging as the vital feature of the mobile, and voice calls as an optional extra. We have global numbers on this already - Lightspeed Research tells us that globally 87% of the population with a mobile phone do not originate voice calls but do send SMS. They tell us that in the UK 11% of mobile phone users behave like this, and in the USA, 13% of cellphone owners do not originate voice calls while sending SMS text messages (Lightspeed 2009). In India the proportion is now 90% using SMS, and only 66% originating voice calls (Yankee Group 2007).

I am not saying that voice calls are ending. We communicate in different ways when we use voice, and when we use text messages. But there is a growing part of the total phone ownership who do not originate calls. If they don't use calls - we should not call it a mobile 'phone' should we? And of course, this is an economic opportunity. In South Africa Vodacom introduced their 'call me' service. A free SMS text message that can be sent by anyone to anyone. It only says 'call me' and it is sponsored by advertising. But if you are poor or something has happened and you are for example out of credit on your pre-paid mobile account - then send the 'call me' message to your relative or friend, and they will call you. SMS helps bring more voice minutes, isn't it a magical service?


Thats just SMS. What of MMS? What is so often thought of as a 'failure' and a horribly bad end-user proposition of expensive poor quality 'picture messages' sent from one cameraphone to another - is actually a very potent and powerful media platform. In China for example, 70% of all MMS messages are sent by machine, not by person, in various media and advertising uses (ZTE Jan 2009). MMS is so powerful as a media channel because it offers simple standardized messaging-based delivery of video, sounds, pictures, and more text than SMS. And while only 13% of all the mobile phones on the planet are 'smartphones' - a massive 80% of all phones in use - 3.1 Billion of them - can receive MMS messages. Yes, MMS reaches the pockets of 6 times more people than all smartphones put together. If you are a media guy and like your iPhone, then even if we add all iPod Touch's and use the 'total shipped' number of 75 million since 2007 (even though not all iPhones will be used anymore as some have been replaced with newer models) - MMS reach of MMS-capable phones is 41 times larger.

And on MMS we can deliver videos, sounds, pictures and text. And MMS is interactive. Evidence of Chinese use include the Chinese newspapers, all of which now offer the twice-daily service of headlines (with pictures, video and sounds of the news headline items, obviously) that the branded newspapers offer in their MMS news headline versions? How popular? 39% of the total audience of the Chinese newspapers already subscribe to the MMS news headline services (Morgan Stanley 2009).

Yes, as every user of SMS is familiar with the mobile messaging format and how its paid for etc, just like SMS, MMS is also inherently interactive. For many non-technical users, if they receive a news headline on MMS, they often think "oh, this is a cool SMS text message, that has a picture on it, very nice". MMS is a most compelling delivery platform - optimized for small screen mobile interactive media use! Think about it, its everything SMS was, but has the enhancements for media. A kind of super-SMS. No wonder media brands who try it, totally fall in love with MMS. It is also optimal for almost any kind of advertising from coupons to 'engagement marketing.'


MMS would be the biggest mobile success story ever, were it not stuck in the shadow of its phenomenally successful big brother we know as SMS. Consider. MMS is only 8 years old. Yet, it delivers over 5 times more revenues than total email revenues worldwide. And email has been around for 39 years. MMS alone is bigger than global music, global cinema box office reveues, or total worldwide internet content revenues. Yes, MMS was worth 29 Billion dollars in 2009 according to TomiAhonen Almanac 2010, and researchers are in total agreement that MMS is growing faster than mobile messaging overall. Portio Research already says MMS will pass 31 Billion dollars in 2010, while Research & Markets says MMS will pass 32 Billion dollars in annual revenues. But the most telling comparison of MMS is with SMS. It took SMS nine years to reach one billion users. It took MMS only six years to hit that level. For revenues, SMS passed 30 Billion dollars of annual revenues in eleven years, MMS passed 30 Billion dollars in 8 years.

Do not misunderstand MMS. It is not a person-to-person messaging 'substitute' to SMS text messaging. This was the common failure we as an industry made. I am guilty of it, I wrote of this assumption in my early books. We thought that SMS traffic would 'migrate; to MMS. That has been proven to be false and the industry soon learned. I chaired the first three global MMS conferences in Vienna and we learned really fast. Yes, we can send picture messages from one cameraphone to another. But MMS is far more potent in delivering media content.

And what a powerful media platform it is turning out to be. We see it on television where innovative broadcasters augment their revenues with MMS for example sending soap opera previews of tomorrow's episode - 5 minutes of tomorrow's storyline, delivered today after today's soap opera episode has ended. Why not? This is an easy way to monetize TV viewership? Or send cooking recipes or games or coupons or simple puzzles like Sudokus etc. MMS earns five times as much money as ringing tones - the first 'value-add' or premium content 'success story' of the mobile telecoms industry. Note, that ringing tones themselves are 4 times larger than all of Apple's iTunes sales worldwide. Yes, we all wonder with 'ooh and aah' how great the iPod success had been and how much money iTunes has been able to generate to the global music industry in digital music downloads. But ringing tones are 4 times bigger globally - and then MMS is 5 times bigger yet. MMS alone is bigger than all music sales worldwide. Why are we not celebrating MMS as an astonishing global success story?


"But Tomi, I don't use MMS". Yeah, and older people in the Western industrialized countries - who tend to be most of the readers of our blog - are not the first to adopt MMS. That is true. But the numbers do not lie. We have statistics from all major countries and the pattern is the same. The growth in MMS is rapid and global.

How many are using it? In the UK 62% of all mobile phone subscribers already use MMS (Aenas 2009) and in the USA, 40% (Jagtag 2009). The leading European country is Norway where 84% of the subscriber base uses MMS (TNS Gallup 2009). That is not surprising, as Norway is where MMS was first launched. In Asia we have issues with wealth and in the poorer parts of Asia the handset population is not all cameraphones and not all MMS-enabled (yet) but even today in China 28% of the subscriber base uses MMS (China Mobile 2009), even in very poor countries we are seeing solid numbers like in India MMS is used by 24% (Yankee 2007).

How big is the user base? MMS has 1.7 Billion active users worldwide in 2009 or used by 37% of the total global mobile phone subscriber base (TomiAhonen Almanac 2010). This compares with 1.4 Billion email users, and 1.2 Billion total personal computers in use on the planet. Yes, you reach more devices using MMS than any internet-based services including search, social networking and email - combined - on the internet. In fact, as the world has 1.6 Billion television sets, MMS will reach a larger active user base, than the total of all television sets in use on the planet. That is enormous reach indeed. Or if we think back to newspapers, the global total daily circulation of all newspapers, paid and free, is 470 million. MMS has 4 times as many paying users than total global newspaper circulation.

The amount of traffic in MMS is modest, when compared to SMS, obviously, but Informa counted that the world sent 43 Billion MMS in the fourth quarter of 2008, which translates to 3.5 MMS sent per mobile phone subscriber per month on average, or nearly one per week. And that traffic is growing at breakneck speed. Portio tells us that MMS traffic is growing at 48% in traffic and 22% in revenues, this year. This from the second most used data application on the planet. For contrast, email grew a modest 7% in 2009 (Netcraft 2010).

Please do understand this enormous opportunity. The iPod was launched in 2001 and grew sales until about 2007 when it levelled off. The world sells about 40 million iPods per year. The total installed base is about 250 million iPods. The content on the iPod is the iTunes music and video market, which produces annual revenues of all types of iPod content at about 2 billion dollars globally. The iPod was the tech press darling for much of the past decade until Apple launched the iPhone.

The Blackberry is a loved mobile messaging device that is optimized for wireless email, and it has its Blackberry instant messenger service and it is supreme for sending SMS text messages. Blackberry has sold about 75 million Blackberries since its launch in 2001. About 35 million people subscribe to the Blackberry messaging services which generate roughly a billion dollars of annual revenues.

Around the same time MMS was launched in January of 2002, and today MMS has 1.7 Billion users (7 times more than iPod, 20 times more than Blackberry), and generates 29 Billion dollars of revenues (15 times more than iTunes, 30 times more than Blackberry). This is a supreme, sublime technology and messaging platform. MMS is not a 'failure' by any means, and were it not for the unprecedented global success of SMS, we'd know of MMS's gigantic global success and celebrate it more.


A couple of follow ups. First, if you happen to be involved in politics or your business is near to it, like providing communication solutions or advertising etc in politics, this year 2010 we have several major elections happening from the US mid-term elections to British parliamentary elections etc. Please understand the power of mobile messaging in your election campaign and read my Primer on Mobile in Elections.

If you'd like a short 2 page free document to remind you of the main facts, numbers, and stats about SMS and MMS, I have just rewritten my "Thought Piece" on mobile messaging, with 2010 updated stats and numbers. I like to think that everybody, even the busiest manager, has time to read 2 pages. So its yours if you ask for it by sending me an email to tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com. Ask for the Thought Piece on Messaging and I will send the pdf file to you by return email. You can freely forward it to all your colleagues who wouldn't have the patience to read this type of long rambling Tomi Ahonen blog articles haha.

And if you want the facts of mobile overall, including obviously all the SMS and MMS related numbers and facts, please consider my TomiAhonen Almanac 2010. I have sample pages and sample stats at the ordering page.