Why is SMS so much more common in India vs the US?

Two main reasons.

First, one random decision made by the Indian telecom regulatory agencies that has really helped: mobile phone numbers are clearly distinguishable from land-line phone numbers. This makes SMS very predictable in India; you instantly know if the receiving number is ‘SMS-capable’ or not. In US, for example, there is no apriori way of knowing if a given phone number is mobile, so there is obvious hesitance in sending SMS’ that might or might not reach the recipient.

Second, SMS is very cheap in India. As is well-known, sending SMS literally costs the telecom operators nothing – the SMS data payload simply gets added to the ‘ping’ that every cellphone sends to the nearest cell tower periodically. For this reason, in India and other countries, thanks to cut-throat competition, the telcos either charge nothing, or very little, for SMS messages. In US, mostly because of implicit collusion, the telcos charge and arm and leg for this highly lucrative pure-profit center.

As a result, even if you know that the phone number you’re calling is mobile, and even if you opted for an SMS plan, you still can’t assume that the other party has an SMS plan. Of course, if you did send the SMS, it would definitely reach the other party; they’d just have to pay for that message on their end. Why bother?

(Of course, I’m talking about the normal citizenry here, most of these are non-issues for the illuminati and the glitterati)

So, an obtuse decision by a governmental agency, combined with private sector greed, has made US much less Text-capable than India.



1 thought on “Why is SMS so much more common in India vs the US?

  1. Amit, if you think “text” usage is not big in US – you should try hanging around some teens !!

    It WAS not big till about 2005-6. I think one big reason was lack of SMS interoperability between GSM and non-GSM carriers in USA. (SMS is primarily a GSM technology and CDMA jumps through some hoops to “emulate” SMS). This is one reason that, in USA, they call it “text message” rather than an “SMS message”.

    Since, the issues around interoperability have been resolved in US, the usage has picked up. According to 2009 statistics, US users now send more text messages than they make phone calls and 72% cellphone subscribers now have text plans.


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