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SMS vs Text: Is There a Difference Between the Two?

Text messaging plays an integral role in real-time mobile communication today. We use it for personal reasons – to chat with friends and check in on family members. And it's used frequently used in business too, for marketing and customer service communications. SMS is cheap, familiar and fast, which is why it's so popular for both types of messaging.

See how we used different terms there – SMS vs text messaging? Many people call it SMS, and others call it texting. Is there actually a difference between the two? This article puts this question to rest.

The difference between SMS vs text messages

Technically, SMS is the name of the service used to send an SMS message. (SMS stands for 'Short Message Service'.) It's a way of sending a text-based message between mobile phones or from a computer to a mobile device.

When you send an SMS message, it transmits to the nearest cell phone tower over a pathway called a control channel. It's then delivered to an SMS centre (SMSC), which resends the message to the tower closest to the recipient. From there, it's delivered to the recipient's phone.

SMS isn't a recent technology, but it's still hugely popular with mobile phone users, even with the rise of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal. One survey suggests that 72.3% of Android users still send SMS to their loved ones.

As far as SMS vs texting is concerned, both terms are used interchangeably. They can be one and the same, but not always. Because SMS is actually a subset of text messaging – and another subset is MMS messages. Let's look at how SMS and MMS messages differ...

What is SMS?

An SMS message is a form of mobile messaging that only uses text, not images or videos. As mentioned earlier, SMS is sent over a cellular network. SMS messages are sent and received in real-time and work via a native app installed on every mobile phone (even feature phones).

The standard character limit for SMS messages is 160 characters. If you send an SMS that's more than 160 characters, it'll get split into separate text messages. Although the recipient usually won't notice because most carrier networks join the messages back together (called concatenated SMS) so they arrive in the correct order.

SMS is fairly basic, but businesses can benefit from additional features. Using an SMS software provider, it's possible to schedule SMS messages in advance, send bulk SMS campaigns and view delivery reports. Businesses can also add branding to SMS messages using Verified SMS, an Android technology.

Person with laptop using mobile phone

What is MMS?

MMS is short for Multimedia Messaging Service. It uses a different delivery protocol from SMS but is also sent over a cellular network. Rather than just text-based messages, MMS also allows you to send and receive multimedia content - photos, videos and audio files. It's like an enhanced version of SMS.

MMS messages have a typical character limit of 1600. There is a maximum size limit, but this differs between mobile phone networks. For example, Verizon's MMS file size limit is 3.5 MB, AT&T supports up to 1 MB, and Vodafone supports up to 3 MB.

MMS is costlier to send than SMS because it requires carrier networks to send much more data than an SMS message. But MMS is a valuable tool for businesses because rich content is easier for recipients to absorb (and is more shareable).

For businesses, which is better, SMS or MMS?

Global mobile business messaging traffic has increased significantly in recent years. In 2020, traffic reached 2.7 trillion, up 10% from the previous year. It's clear text messages are here to stay for the foreseeable future, so it makes sense to include them in your marketing and communications strategy.

The answer to which type of text messages you should send – SMS or MMS – depends on your message's purpose and what you're trying to achieve. The table below compares both to help you decide.


SMS

MMS

Content type

Best for urgent or time-sensitive messages rather than SMS marketing. Examples include appointment reminders, order confirmations, 2FA pin codes and customer support ticket responses.

Best for marketing information that’s better relayed through multimedia content rather than blocks of text. For example, new product launches or outlet openings, special offers and holiday wishes. Rich media content is more shareable than text-only content.

Pricing

More affordable than MMS messages and traditional advertising methods (printed and online ads).

Costs more than simple text messages. However, when you use VoIP numbers or short codes, both forms of text messaging can be cost-effective.

Content limitations

Short character limit means your message must be very concise – not all content can be conveyed in only 160 characters.

You can be as creative as you like with text and multimedia. However, MMS messages use more data. Some subscribers may opt-out of MMS messages if their device is subject to monthly data limits.

Delivery

SMS messages offer wide accessibility and can be delivered to all mobile phones, even basic ones.

MMS messages can only be delivered to smartphones that support multimedia. If your audience includes older generations, some may not have access to a smartphone.

See the comparisons between SMS and MMS messages in more detail in this blog.

Business team discussing strategy

Text messaging explained

SMS is a form of text messaging, as is MMS. If you're looking for a way to reach customers directly and grab their attention, both SMS and MMS messages will do the trick. The best type for your business depends on your communication needs and budget.

SMS is affordable and highly accessible but has limitations on the length of your content. MMS messaging offers plenty of space and lends itself to more creative, catchy content. However, MMS is more expensive than SMS.

You can, however, use a combination of both for your text message strategy – this is what many businesses do.

Read our blog for lots more information on business text messages. Or try out business texting for yourself with Messente. Get started free.

Taavi Rebane
2022-11-08 00:00:00 UTC
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