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'Merry Christmas': World’s first text message, sent from Vodafone in Newbury, expected to fetch up to £170,000 at auction

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Vodafone is to auction off the first SMS sent in 1992, with proceeds going to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to support forcibly displaced people.

Newbury-based digital technology firm Vodafone is hoping to raise up to £170,000 for the charity with the sale of an NFT of the first SMS sent in 1992 which wished a 'Merry Christmas' from one Vodafone employee to another.

The auction will take place on Tuesday, December 21, and will be run by Aguttes Auction House in France. The buyer will pay with Ether cryptocurrency.

Vodafone first SMS 'Merry Christmas' to be auctioned
Vodafone first SMS 'Merry Christmas' to be auctioned

‘Merry Christmas’ was the world’s first SMS, sent on the Vodafone network by Vodafone employee Neil Papworth from his computer to colleague Richard Jarvis on December 3, 1992.

Mr Jarvis received the world’s first text message on his iconic Orbitel 901 mobile phone while he was at the company’s Christmas party.

As Neil Papworth stated later in an interview, he and his team of fellow software and testing engineers at a specialised telecoms development company were under pressure during the time leading up to Christmas 1992.

He and his colleagues were trying to establish a new communications infrastructure for their client Vodafone to enable people to send short, written messages to each other’s mobile phones.

After countless attempts and iterations of the code, the sending and receiving of text via Vodafone’s mobile network finally worked.

The transmission of the short text message that only included 15 characters eventually was a pivotal moment in the history of mobile communication technology.

The absence of a newspaper archive about this discovery in 1992 shows how far we were to imagine what had just happened.

The communication software protocol that was used later became universally known as “Short Messaging Service” (SMS).

Vodafone and the hired team of external engineers were pioneers of a new digital age that laid the foundation for new ways of human communication through digital technologies, including social media and everything that came.

Mr Papworth said: “In 1992, I had no idea just how popular texting would become, and that this would give rise to emojis and messaging apps used by millions.

"I only recently told my children that I sent that first text.

"Looking back with hindsight, it’s clearer to see that the Christmas message I sent was a pivotal moment in mobile history.”

Vodafone is combining a world-first innovation from nearly 30 years ago, with today’s state-of-the-art technology and will donate all proceeds from the auction to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to support the 82.4 million people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution.

The exclusive NFT guarantees ownership of a unique, detailed replica of the original communication protocol of the first text message ever transmitted.

The auction will be conducted in Paris on December 21 by Aguttes, the first independent auction house in France. Largely active in the international art and luxury market, it expects to gather bidders from all around the world for this sale.

Auction house founder Maximilian Aguttes said: “The first printed book, the first phone call, the first email – all these inventions have changed our lives and communication in the world.

"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.”

Vodafone UK chief executive Ahmed Essam said: “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.

"This initiative embodies our ‘Together We Can’ spirit.”

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