Hands holding a mobile phone

What does SMS stand for?

SMS stands for Short Message Service

SMS are short text messages, usually sent from one personal mobile phone to another. 

SMS messages are restricted to 160 plain text characters per SMS, although longer messages can be sent using a process called SMS concatenation. (This is when messages are joined together to appear on the phone as one long text.)

When the first text was sent back in 1992 by Vodafone engineer Neil Papworth, SMS wasn’t intended to be a service that billions of people worldwide would use every day to send countless texts to family and friends.

It was originally used as a way that telecoms engineers could use spare network capacity to communicate at almost no cost.

neil papworth Vodafone engineer
Neil Papworth was a young Vodafone engineer when he sent the first SMS in 1992

Fast forward to 2012 and a staggering 151 billion texts were being sent annually in the UK alone.

Since those heady days, P2P SMS volumes have been in steep decline as other OTT messaging apps with much richer features have taken over. 

Even though SMS is incredibly basic, offering just 160 plain text characters, it still shows no signs of being killed off.

SMS remains the only messaging option where you don’t need to install an app and agree which one you’re going to use. As long as you have someone’s mobile number, you can send them a text. 

whatsapp and messenger logo
Unlike WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, SMS can be sent to any mobile number

That’s still a unique benefit that SMS has over all the other messaging apps.

What is the difference between SMS and MMS?

MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service

While SMS is 160 plain text characters, MMS allows you to send images, video, audio and other file types.

With MMS there is no restriction on the number of characters used.

The rise of Business SMS

As the volume of person to person to person texts drops, we’re witnessing a sharp rise in the volume of texts being sent by businesses. 

Historically, these have typically been marketing texts. It wasn’t  long ago that we were all being bombarded by spam from dubious financial services and accident claims companies.

These days SMS is being used much more to send transactional texts. These are texts for parcel delivery notifications, 2fa codes, appointment reminders etc. There’s a huge range of ways that businesses are using SMS to communicate with their customers.

So the clunkily named ‘Short Message Service’ is still a force to be reckoned with and shows no sign of disappearing any time soon.

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Henry Cazalet Managing Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Henry