by January 7, 2000 0 comments

SMS
has been around for as long as GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)
cellphones have been around, that is, since around 1991. SMS (Short Messaging
Service) is what allows you to send and receive text messages on your cellphone.
These messages could be sent from the Internet or from one cellphone to another.
So, you can use SMS for professional purposes, and have fun with it too. For
example, you can SMS someone in your office if you’re going to be delayed in
reaching office, you can wish someone Happy Birthday, or even have a
conversation, much like the way you chat on the Internet. Remember the ad when a
lovestruck guy proposes to the girl in question over her pager? You can do that
with SMS without having to call up the paging service and have them relay the
message.

Why SMS? For one, it’s an alternate way of communication.
For another, SMS is cheaper than voice, and for receiving a message, you don’t
pay anything. Also, SMS messages can be far pithier than voice conversation. It’s
also non-interfering, in the sense that you don’t have to interrupt your work
to receive a message–you can receive a message even while you’re talking
over the cellphone–and reply to it at your convenience. And finally, you could
easily multitask with SMS–do something else even while you are punching out
your SMS message, something you can’t easily do while on a voice call.

How SMS works

When someone sends a text message to your cellphone via the
Internet or from his cellphone, the message goes to the Short Message Service
Center, or SMSC, run by the cellphone service provider. The SMSC contacts an HLR
(Home Location Register)–a permanent database of information about subscribers
and service profiles–to find out your whereabouts. The HLR informs the SMSC of
where you are and how to route the message to you. The message is now forwarded
to the mobile switching center (MSC) closest to you. The MSC looks up
information in the VLR (Visitor Location Register), which is a database of
temporary information about subscribers who are in the area serviced by it. The
message is now transmitted to you via the Base Station System (BSS), in whose
area your cellphone is. You can choose to reply to it, save it, or delete it.

In case the HLR is unable to trace you, for example, if your
cellphone is switched off or not working, it tells the SMSC of the same. The
SMSC then stores your message, and requests the HLR to inform it when your
cellphone becomes traceable on the cellular network. When your cellphone is back
in action, the HLR informs the SMSC of where you are and the above process is
followed to deliver the message to you. However, the SMSC doesn’t store the
message forever. There’s a validity period that can be set, which determines
for how long the SMSC will store the message before deleting it.

When tomorrow comes

So, what’s in store for SMS in future? Lots, if happenings
on the wireless front are anything to go by.

For starters, and we’re talking about the immediate future,
you’ll use cellphones to access latest news and stock quotes from your
cellular network operator. This is already happening. SMS can also be used to
download your favorite ringtone from your cellular operator. Your network
operator might even be able to send e-mail or voice mail notifications on your
cellphone, so that you know when you have messages waiting to be answered. With
WAP around, shopping on your cellphone is a distinct possibility, and we’ll
tell that story elsewhere in this issue.

That’s
as far as text is concerned. But as the wireless world grows, both in number of
users and in terms of bandwidth, your cellphone will begin to be used as a
complete connected device–you’ll be able to use it as your PC, which not
only means that the Net will be connected to your cellphone inseparably, but
also that you’ll be able to connect it to peripherals like digital cameras,
and do everything that you do on your PC or laptop or handheld.

This also means that messaging could go way beyond text to
pictures, and even animations, movie clips, and multimedia. Picture messaging
has already found its way to some cellphones, where you can download pictures or
create your own, and send them across, along with a text message. With bandwidth
bottlenecks set to be overcome as broadband and GPRS make their presence felt,
the days of multimedia messaging are not far away.

So, you could send and receive photographs, video clips, and
audio via your cellphone, apart from text. It may become possible for you to
create multimedia content on your cellphone and then send it. For example, you
could download the latest MP3 and send it to your friends. You could click
photographs on your digital camera, connect that to your cellphone, and send
them. While making a presentation, you could receive your presentation on your
Bluetooth-enabled cellphone, point that to a Bluetooth-enabled projector and
present it, without carrying your PC around. The possibilities are immense in a
completely connected wireless world.

Another area of growth is the volume of messages itself. As
the number of cellphone user increases, and the focus shifts from voice to data,
instant messaging over the cellphone might even overtake voice calls.

After e-mail, chat is the killer application that’s drawing
people on to the Internet. Today, chat on the Net is going the multimedia way.
SMS is to the cellphone, what chat is to the Net, and given mankind’s urge to
communicate, there is no reason why SMS shouldn’t grow the way chat has grown.
SMS today is used mostly for person-to-person messaging, but in future, provided
the bandwidth is available, you could have chat communities in the wireless
world, and cellphone-based chat could become the bandwidth hog, with or without
multimedia.

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