Facebook hints at death of SMS as Messenger hits 800m users

7 Jan 2016

Could the days of the phone number actually be numbered?

Facebook has predicted the disappearance of the old phone number and consequentially SMS as its Messenger multimedia communications platform hits 800m monthly users worldwide.

Facebook’s Messenger platform is eating into the traditional SMS and voice revenues of mobile operators as users reach out to one another using their social media profiles as identifiers.

The head of Messaging Products at Facebook, David Marcus, revealed today (7 January) that Facebook Messenger has crossed the milestone of 800m people using the service each month.

He said that the platform has evolved to enable people who aren’t actual Facebook users to sign up and use Messenger.

‘And just like the flip phone is disappearing, old communication styles are disappearing too’

As well as adding new photo-sharing tools, Facebook has started testing M, a digital virtual assistant, as well as launching a new transportation app with Uber.

End of the road for the phone number, says Facebook Messenger chief

Marcus also predicted the disappearance of the phone number, which he says could go the way of the flip phone.

“Think about it… SMS and texting came to the fore in the time of flip phones,” Marcus said.

“Now, many of us can do so much more on our phones; we went from just making phone calls and sending basic text-only messages to having computers in our pockets. And just like the flip phone is disappearing, old communication styles are disappearing too. With Messenger, we offer all the things that made texting so popular, but also so much more.

“Yes, you can send text messages, but you can also send stickers, photos, videos, voice clips, GIFs, your location, and money to people. You can make video and voice calls while at the same time not needing to know someone’s phone number.

“You don’t need to have a Facebook account to use Messenger anymore, and it’s also a cross-platform experience – so you can pick up where you left off whether you’re on a desktop computer, a tablet, or your phone,” Marcus said.

He said that testing of M is going well and soon we could be talking with artificial intelligence (AI) agents as fluidly as we talk to other humans.

“It’s still very, very early days, but the growing AI capabilities are bringing unparalleled convenience to simple, everyday tasks like booking a restaurant, sending flowers, and making plans. There will be more innovative developments to come from Messenger this year.”

Facebook Messenger app image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years