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What is SMS?

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Todd Kamp

Content writer

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11 Jul 2022
3 min read

Everything you need to know about the channel you probably use every day

The more common a phrase is, the more likely its original meaning has been lost to time. Kind of like the ‘save’ icon in a Word document. It’s an icon for a 3 ½ inch floppy disk, which anyone in their early twenties would be hard-pressed to identify. However, we click on it because it saves our document.

The same goes for SMS. You’ve probably heard the acronym, you know it has something to do with texting, and most cellular providers love to list it on their monthly bills, but that’s as far as it usually goes.


So, what does SMS stand for?

SMS is short for, well, Short Message Service. We wish there was a more magical way to impart that information, like Semantic Messaging Synchronization or something super technical. But it’s quite straightforward. SMS is short, it’s a message, and it’s a service that allows you to send and receive text-based correspondence via your mobile phone. And sure, you can also send messages to mobile devices via a computer and vice versa, but phone-to-phone is the most common use. 

Let’s dig into the details. Well, one detail. Even though you can send friends and family a wall of text, SMS messages only consist of up to 160 characters. That’s not even a modern Tweet’s worth of information. But you may be asking yourself, “How does that make even a lick of sense?”

Well, if your message goes beyond the 160-character limit – making it two messages – the cellular provider will automatically combine them into one single image. Which technically makes it an MMS. All in the name of making your experience more aesthetically pleasing. Which, leads us to…


The difference between SMS, text message, and MMS

Ah, the elephant in the room – terminology. While some mobile providers call them texts, others stick with SMS. But all you need to know is that whenever you send text messages, you’re sending SMS. They’re the same thing. It’s like when someone refers to your nose as your olfactory. They’re trying to sound cool and technical.

The only real difference between SMS and text messaging is that text messaging includes a broader range of capabilities including audio, videos, and images – otherwise known as MMS or Multimedia Messaging Service. So anytime you choose to send a voice message or drop in your favorite gif (or is it pronounced gif?) you’re technically upgrading to MMS. But be careful, because depending on the cellular provider, MMS will cost you more.


Oh, a brief history of SMS before you go

It all starts back in the 1980s with a little thing called the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). Yep, another acronym. The GSM’s purpose was for those in Europe to have a set of standards and protocols for voice telecommunications that would include the mobile system, in addition to the public switch and data networks already in use.

It just so happens that two men were working on the GSM standards at the time, German engineer, Friedhelm Hillebrand, and French engineer, Bernard Ghillebaert. Both are credited with the creation of SMS. In fact, Hillebrand is the reason they’re limited to 160 characters. So, blame him. Hillebrand lived in a world of postcards and business messaging services like Telex, which were typically around 160 characters in length. He reasoned that SMS shouldn’t be any different. Of course, neither Hillebrand, Ghillebaert, nor those working on the GSM standards couldn’t possibly imagine just how popular SMS would become.


Send text messages with Whispir

Whether you want to call it SMS or text messages, Whispir has the means to send bulk SMS that reaches more audiences and engages more customers – with deliverability rates reaching 94%. That means, with Whispir’s SMS API, you can send as many or as few as needed to reach your goals without worrying about high costs or non-deliverability.  

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