Returning from the 3GSM Congress in Barcelona, I couldn’t help wondering if all the hype was really missing something important – why we love SMS.

So let’s review that hype.

Basically the “Mobile World” thinks it’s going to move towards a totally Internet-based future, where every phone is IP-enabled and we all roam around, using voice and data on the move. A vast new world of video and music downloads will open up to us. Oh yes.

Of course, it’s going to take time. As Vodafone CEO Aurin Sarin pointed out during the show, the shift towards a world where we play a flat rate to access the mobile IP network, as we do currently in broadband, will not happen overnight. What he rather glossed over (perhaps because it is obvious) was that mobile operators make vast sums from voice and messaging (and don’t forget roaming calls to Barcelona) so any move towards this new business model is only going to happen when operators have something else to replace their current models.

So say hello to PIMP.

PIMP is the “Personal Instant Messaging Platform” apparently. Great name guys.

Anyway, PIMP is going to be the method operators will use to switch us from a world where everyone pays to message, to one where only the sender pays. This is supposed to be their answer to the alternatives, shortly to be provided (if not already) by MSN, Google and Yahoo!, who all want to move their millions of instant messaging customers over to mobile, and serve ads at them.

Now all of this presumes that we will be buying Wi-Fi phones in droves (Nokia announced a new GSM/WiFi phone at 3GSM) and dumping SMS.

But all the evidence shows that not only are we addicted to SMS messaging but, not unlike Heroin, we are practically mainlining it into our eyeballs (SMS that is).

According to Mobile Data Association (MDA) figures 2005 was another record year for text messaging growth in the UK. In November we sent 2.79 billion SMS messages. Person-to-person texts sent across the UK GSM network operators showed an increase of over 23% on the total sent during the same period in 2004. And, by the way, we have no idea how many person-to-machine or auto-response texts were sent since no-one ever releases the figures.

And even as we move towards a 3G world, the analysts are confirming that we can’t kick the habit. A study by M:Metrics of owners of 3G phones in the UK and Germany found that 3G users use even more SMS than 2G phone owners.

It found that 3G users are five times more likely to use the multimedia capabilities of handsets, doing more messaging, gaming, watching video and downloading new content.

“Despite the varied new messaging options, 3G subscribers are still more likely to use SMS in comparison to non-3G users, so we are not seeing cannibalisation of SMS revenues, as some have speculated,” said Paul Goode, vice president and senior analyst, M:Metrics. “Instead, we see that they are sending SMS while being twice as likely to use mobile e-mail and instant messaging.”

So what does this tell you? SMS isn’t about to be replaced by ‘sexy’ 3G services, and in fact it will only expand further.

This mirrors what happened in the Internet space. As broadband penetration spread, what happened? The faster speeds meant people accessed and consumed more online. They didn’t necessarily want more broadband ‘content’ (although music downloads and video have obviously been huge) but the mainstream of users just wanted more “internet” – email and web surfing. They knew what worked – it just needed to be *faster*. The same experience will happen with 3G. We’ll just message more, since sending and receiving texts will be much faster.

But here’s a parting thought. With new services coming on stream and the old stalwarts of voice and SMS coming under increasing competition, will other multimedia services take up the slack?

Somewhow I doubt it. SMS can only get cheaper, but at the end of the day it remains the same products – 160 characters of pure, unadulterated, highly personal communication.

People LOVE messaging, and they’ll do it by the cheapest, most widely available means, and that’s going to be SMS for a long time to come.