How They Work: Text Messages

Written by Roy Turse

Friday, 6 March 2009

image for How They Work: Text Messages
Texting. It's like e-mails between mobiles.

They are gr8, aren't they? Well they are if you can understand them! Text messages have become a big part of modern life and an essential communications medium for teenagers. But have you ever stopped to wonder how they work?

Luckily, I was recently invited to look this exact question up on Wikipedia, so I can explain the concepts.

It all starts when you enter text into your mobile phone using a specially limited keyboard. Gradually you build up a message made out of complex abbreviations and unfathomable slang. If you are unlucky, your phone may also have a feature called predictive text which changes what you key in to something different as you go along. Eventually you have a complete message. You choose the person you want to send it to and press Send.

And this is where the clever process begins. Your message is first sent to a localised call centre. There, a Text Specialist sees the message displayed and the number it is destined for. They immediately telephone a call centre closest to the destination mobile phone and read out the text to the Text Specialist at the other end. It is now the responsibility of this Text Specialist to re-code the message into text using a pre-defined set of abbreviations and slang. The newly-formed text message is then sent from the call centre to the recipient's handset. Simple.

The process gets around the fact that the mobile network is designed for voice calls, not sending data, and the impression for the user is that what they send goes straight to the destination phone. However, if you check you will find that the abbreviated message you sent is subtly different from the one received.

The unsung heroes of the operation are the Text Specialists. It takes years to learn all the abbreviation codes. They need to know which codes are used in which areas of the country and by which age and ethnic groups. Your grandmother may use LOL to mean 'lots of love' when everyone your age knows it really means 'laugh out later'.

It may only cost you a few pence to send a text, but the cost to the mobile phone company is much greater. They absorb this cost as a service to their users.

So, next time you send a message, spare a thought for the wonderful work of the Text Specialists and the complexity of Texts. Now you know How They Work.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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