Kiwis still big texters after 20 years

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

New Zealanders are still avid text messagers despite a decline in use overseas as smartphones take over.

With the 20th anniversary of the world's first text message this week, the 160-character mobile phone message remains an immensely popular way to keep in touch.

Vodafone said 7.3 billion text messages were sent on its New Zealand network in the last year, an average of 22 million a day, while Telecom said its users send an average of just under 7 billion a year, or about 19 million a day.

The number of texts on Vodafone's network has plateaued after creeping up incrementally year each year, while Telecom's network is still experiencing growth.

The strong figures are in contrast to Britain and the United States, where text messaging is in decline, prompting some analysts to question whether its popularity has peaked.

Vodafone spokeswoman Michelle Baguley said texting was not in decline in New Zealand, but was flattening out now after year-on-year increases.

"The reason for that is obviously the prevalence of smartphones and instant messaging."

Ms Baguley said mobile data use had doubled in a year.

She said nobody though text messaging would take off in the early 1990s, when mobile phones were still unwieldy and only businesspeople could afford them.

"Then as phones became more affordable and got into the hands of teenagers, that's when it really took off, and New Zealand in particular has embraced text messaging, ahead of other countries.

"Our seven billion texts a year, that's over nine texts a day per user. And if you consider that some users are not sending any, some are sending an awful lot."

Telecom spokeswoman Jo Jalfon said its users sent an average of about 11 million texts a day in 2005, compared with 19 million a day now.

"People are definitely sending and receiving more texts - it's just become the mainstream way to communicate, not just for people dealing with friends and family, but also businesses as well."

Ms Jalfon said New Zealanders were pretty savvy with picking up new trends like smartphones - but if texting was working for them, that was what they would keep doing.

The world's first text message was sent 20 years ago on December 3 by a Vodafone UK employee, Neil Papworth, who texted "Merry Christmas" to a work colleague.

The simple message demonstrated the technology worked outside the lab for the the first time.

Vodafone was the first to introduce text messaging to New Zealand in 1993, and the first to bring in PXT photo messaging in 2002.

Telecom's first text in 1996 was sent on its old CDMA network, which was shut down this year.

Texting on both networks peaks during New Year's celebrations, with Vodafone customers most recently sending 24.5 million texts and Telecom customers sending 25 million.

- APNZ

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