What is the World's Text Messaging Capital?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/22/2008 02:12:00 AM
I am very much interested in the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in developing countries. A few days ago, I featured a post about the emerging applications of mobile phone banking in a number of LDCs. Today, I will turn my attention to the technology which many mobile phone banking services piggyback on: the short-messaging system (SMS) of cell phones. Text messaging is very popular in developing countries for an understandable reason. It is much more affordable to send text messages than to make phone calls, and this feature thus gains relevance in this context. Although text messaging was originally seen as a secondary application for cell phones, it has gained additional salience given its affordability. Phone cards go a much longer way if you text rather than talk.

Some of the research I have recently performed required me to investigate levels of text messaging in the developing world. In particular, what is the world's text messaging capital? For a long time, the Philippines had this distinction in sending about 200-400 million messages daily. There, the revenues of telecommunications firms from text messaging actually exceed those from phone calls. However, there is now a challenger on the horizon that has upped the stakes: China. In the Philippines, sending a text message costs about $0.02, while it costs $0.01 in China. It turns out that in terms of sheer volume, China has indeed eclipsed the Philippines. According to the government telecoms regulator Ministry for Information Industry (MII), there were 1.6 billion messages sent daily in China during 2007. Meanwhile, a Reuters article of recent vintage notes that the two largest Philippine cell phone providers have recorded text messages averaging around 1 billion sent daily in 2007.

The king is dead, long live the new king? Well, not so fast. There are 50 million cell phone users in the Philippines, while there are 547 million in China. So, the daily average for the Philippines in terms of text messages sent is an astounding 20, while that in China is a more modest 3. Thus, the Philippines retains its title in terms of text messages sent per user even if China outstrips it in terms of total number of messages. Text messaging should be an Olympic sport given the dexterity I've seen some display in going through the SMS menus...M NT KDDNG ;-)