What is SMS and how does it work?
Since the very first Short Messaging Service (SMS) message was sent in 1992, the practice of sending messages between mobile phones has well and truly taken off. Today, around 18.7 billion text messages are sent worldwide each day.
SMS has become one of the most popular forms of communication. And for great reason. It’s an incredibly quick and easy way to get in touch with other people. Plus, it’s super cost-effective for businesses, too.
Yet, while most people happily send text messages every day, many don’t know much about how this communication system works – beyond the fact that a standard message has 160 characters or less (and, let’s face it, even this is news to some). Let’s break down SMS and explore how it all works.
Unpacking all the text-based acronyms
“I’ll send you a text.” It’s a common call. But, technically, the term ‘text message’ can mean a few different things. See, texting is an umbrella term for all kinds of services and products that allow you to send and receive text-based messages.
Before we dive into how SMS works, let’s look at all the different types of text messages. They include:
- SMS, which stands for Short Messaging Service. This consists of alphabetic and numerical characters. At 160 characters or less, it’s pretty clear why this type of text gets called ‘short’.
- MMS, which stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. You’ve got more room to move with this. You can include up to 5,000 characters in the main message, plus a subject line of up to 20 characters and images (for example, a JPEG, PNG or moving GIF). Learn more about MMS.
- Mobile Landing Pages (MLPs). Technically, an MLP isn’t a text message. But these mobile-friendly, feature-rich pages are linked to from standard SMS as a way to boost engagement with customers. Here are 10 great use cases for Mobile Landing Pages.
- Over-the-top (OTT) application messaging. Applications like Whatsapp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger use a slightly different way to send text messages. Whereas SMS, MMS and MLP use a telecommunications network to transmit messages, OTT messaging requires an internet or WIFI connection.
How SMS works
The way SMS works can depend on who is sending the message. If you’re sending a message from your phone to a friend’s phone, you’ll just use your mobile phone network. Businesses, on the other hand, use a gateway like MessageMedia to send huge volumes of messages out to customers. Let’s take a look at both.
Sending SMS between friends
Here’s what happens (in very simple terms) when you type out a message to a mate on your phone. When you hit ‘send’, your mobile phone carrier uses the GSM system to convert the message and the recipient’s mobile phone number into data sent to the nearest mobile phone tower.
From there, it’s routed to the tower closest to the recipient, where the data lands on your friend’s phone, unscrambled as your message.
Sending SMS from your business
While the carrier network works well for single messages, it’s not as effective for businesses that want to send out bulk SMS messages to all their customers. Enter the gateway.
Gateway technology solves the challenge of sending messages out to thousands of customers in one go, quickly and reliably. A gateway is an online platform or engine that can rapidly intake and direct huge volumes of SMS in a short amount of time – making it ideal for businesses that send bulk SMS.
For example, MessageMedia’s gateway can process +10,000 events per second and deliver 95% of messages within 2 seconds. And, with MessageMedia, you’ve got options for how you access the gateway to send your bulk SMS messages:
- Our self-service web portal. Send bulk SMS directly from the web portal. Sign up for a free account and get immediate access, plus 25 free credits
- Email to SMS. If your team prefers the familiarity of email, you can easily send SMS from your email inbox.
- Integrated with your preferred platform. Through our integrations marketplace, you can easily connect MessageMedia with your preferred sales, marketing or other business tools to send text messages from them.
How our SMS gateway works
Our SMS gateway routes messages directly through a provider (which could be a telecommunications network or carrier). It uses rules to quickly decide which provider offers the best, fastest and most reliable route to deliver the message.
A number of factors come into play here, including the message content, the recipient and sender’s carrier, the type of message (for example, SMS or MMS), and so much more. The most important consideration? Which pathway will take the least number of hops for your message to get to its recipient.
With the best route identified, the message then passes through the gateway and is delivered to the recipient. With everything happening automatically, it’s a highly scalable system that enables businesses to ‘blast’ out mass messages almost instantaneously.
Ready to start using SMS?
Now you know how SMS messages get from A to B, are you ready to embrace it?