Insignificant Text

For most, the tinkle of a text message arriving in their pocket will be a kindly note from a friend or lover, letting them know where the party’s at, or that you must remember to pick up some star anise for that Blumenthalian delicacy you promised you would prepare. However, you’ll be glad to hear, text messaging is also being put to use in far more novel ways, particularly in parts of the world with no access to the web.


The advantages of GSM (mobile phone) networks are clear for developing countries where no tradditonal telephony exists. Telecoms companies are able to ‘leapfrog’ the hard task of building physical networks over large areas, and concentrate their efforts on providing wireless coverage. So while we have a huge increase in services available online in developed countries, similar services are being made available to the in the developing world through text messages.

The Economist reported last week that the old example of ‘ an Indian fisherman calling different ports from his boat to get a better price for his catch’ no longer goes far enough, and provides details of payments and banking systems now in operation, conducted by SMS, in different parts of the developing world.

While of course many see the uses that SMS is being put to as an indicator of a possible explosion of services when more advanced mobile data systems become available to those who previously had no web access, it’s crucial to remember it is the very cheapness, availability and accessibility of this technology which is driving its popularity.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how exactly a fisherman can use his mobile so far away from a phone mast, take a look at these ’999 with Michael Burke’ style stories of SMS survival at sea and in the air.