What Is an SMS Message?

Audrey Hollingshead Picture

by Audrey Hollingshead | Last Updated: Apr 1, 2023

If you’re like most people, you get and send text messages every day, often multiple times away. In fact, SlickText reported that six billion people will be sending text messages by 2025. So what exactly is a text message? An SMS message is a plain text message. They are usually sent and received on cell phones. But there’s a little more to it. Below is some basic information on SMS text messages.

SMS Meaning

SMS stands for short message service. A single message can contain up to 160 characters. Anything beyond that usually requires a second segment or message. Carriers often send multiple messages in order to avoid confusion. 

SMS vs. iMessage 

There is one distinctive difference between SMS messages and iMessage. SMS messages can be sent on almost any phone or tablet. iMessage can only be sent on an Apple-made device.  One of the main advantages of iMessage is that it uses end-to-end encryption. This means that no one else but the senders and receiver can read those messages. iMessages also allow you to send a text of any length without automatically breaking it into multiple messages due to no restrictions on character limits.  If you're an Android user and want the same protection there are apps you can use, like Signal. Signal provides end-to-end encryption so users can send and receive important information without worry of third parties reading it. 

How Does SMS Work?

SMS messages may look like normal text to you. But to phones and the cell towers they interact with, SMS messages are actually binary code. When you send a text the binary code first goes to the nearest cell tower to you. Then it bounces from one tower to another until it reaches one closest to the receiver, and then finally the receiver. To know which exact user to send the message to, SMS messages use specific frequencies related to only that user.

Should I Use SMS or MMS?

By now you might be wondering about MMS messages. Should I use SMS or MMS? Is there a difference between them? 


The main difference between SMS and MMS is that the latter contains a video, picture, emoji, or a website link. So if your brand has ever texted consumers a message that had a video or picture then you’ve sent an MMS message. MMS messages also have a higher character limit. They can send up to 1,600 characters and 10 images. SMS messages  have a character limit of 160. It’s also more expensive to send MMS messages compared to SMS. Which one you should use depends on the use case.  SMS Messages Are Best For: MMS Messages Are Best For:  Video walk-throughs of recently bought products and customer support so you and customers can include screenshots and images.

What Are the Disadvantages of MMS?

There are some disadvantages of MMS messages. 
  1. They can cost more to send.
  2. Not every customer will be able to view the attached media. This is especially true if your customer base is older and uses older model phones.
  3. You may need to hire outside help for videos and images if you don’t have any knowledgeable people in-house. 
MMS messages can be worth it if you’re planning to send a lot of image or video content to consumers. If not, your brand can do most of what it needs by sending SMS. They are much more cost-effective and much easier to send.  The important thing to remember is that no matter what messaging type you choose, don’t message customers constantly. Customers don’t want notices every day of a new product, deal, or sale. That will desensitize them to your messages and possibly your business. 

Learn More About SMS Messages Today

Businesses that don’t use SMS messages miss out. Read more on how text messages can impact your business and engage customers. 

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