Vodafone is selling the first ever text message for charity

The first ever SMS was sent over the Vodafone network 29 years ago and soon one lucky collector will own it.

On 3 December 1992 Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old software developer working for Vodafone UK, sent a text message saying “Merry Christmas” to colleague Richard Jarvis. Prior to that he would have had to call him and say those words, which would have been a massive hassle. Within a year Nokia had installed the technology on its phones and the world hasn’t looked back, such that now people in the same room sometimes message each other to save wear and tear on their vocal cords.

Such a momentous event is presumably very collectable for people into that sort of thing, but how do you own an intangible thing like an SMS? Thankfully a more recent innovation – the non-fungible token (NFT) – enables us to place an electronic stamp on digital stuff, thus ensuring its provable uniqueness.

This, in turn, has allowed Vodafone to offer this first text up for auction, with the proceeds going to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Not only that, but the eventual winner will pay with the Ether cryptocurrency, as if to emphasise how down with the kids the whole process is. The auction will take place Tuesday 21 December, and will be run by Aguttes auction house in France, for some reason.

“The first printed book, the first phone call, the first email – all these inventions have changed our lives and communication in the world,” said Maximilian Aguttes, founder of the eponymous auctioneers. “This first text message received in 1992 is a historic testament to human and technological progress – we are delighted to be able to support the sale of this landmark piece of history for this cause.”

“We’re proud to be bringing together a major technology innovation from our past with cutting edge technology of today, to help people in desperate need of support,” said Ahmed Essam, CEO Vodafone UK. “This initiative embodies our ‘Together We Can’ spirit.”

‘The exclusive NFT guarantees ownership of a unique, detailed replica of the original communication protocol of the first text message ever transmitted,’ says the Voda press release. Imagine what fun unsuspecting mates of the winner will have when confronted by this NFT and are forced to pretend they even know what it is, let alone care. Top marks to Vodafone for raising money for a good cause, though.


  1. Avatar Jordan 14/12/2021 @ 2:56 pm

    Just mathing this and 19 years ago was 2002? Not 1992?

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 14/12/2021 @ 3:41 pm

      DOH! Thanks, corrected.

  2. Avatar Mike Ferris 14/12/2021 @ 4:00 pm

    1992 is 29 years ago, not 19. I personally love obscure telecoms trivia like this. I’m writing a book about it, so this story will embellish the piece I already have about the world’s first SMS. Not sure about the idea of “owning” it though. It was a transaction. It’s been and gone. Still, it’s for charity so who cares!

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 14/12/2021 @ 4:03 pm

      Yup, my bad, corrected.

  3. Avatar Nick 15/12/2021 @ 2:23 am

    So text messaging was available on Analogue mobile networks? It must have been because Mercury One2one was the first digital network apparently in the world which started in 1993 followed by Hutchison Orange in 1994.

    Or was it digital but not yet available to the public as a trial?

    And BT was the first to be able to send and receive text messages to and from landlines. I have a compatible phone and BT automatically activates a add on with 200 free texts a month when you send your first text. It’s quite handy for small businesses and maybe some home users. It will be a thing of the past when everyone is upgraded to Digital voice and other VoIP services

    BT text works by dialling an access number and transmitting data I think by using DMTF tones.

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