Messaging 101: What is SMS

SMS Infographic Messaging 101: What is SMS

If someone wanted to send information to another person with a mobile thirty years ago, they would primarily have used text messaging or texting services. SMS is short because it is limited to 160 alphabetic or numeric characters. They also use communication protocols standardised in 1985 by the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) to transmit information between two devices. 

Old SMS Text Message Messaging 101: What is SMS
Credit: Flow Journal


[FUN FACT: The very, very first SMS was sent in the UK via Vodafone’s GSM network on 3rd December 1992. It was sent by an SMS gateway provider, like MessageMedia, and received by a personal computer. Can you guess the content of the message?

 (Highlight below for answer)

Merry Christmas.]

SMS vs Text messages

Text Messaging Umbrella Messaging 101: What is SMS

Very often, even in our content, SMS and text messages/text messaging is used interchangeably.  However, text messaging or text generally is the umbrella term for all kinds of services and products that allow you to send and receive text-based messages such as:

These are text only, and the length of your message matters as you are limited to 160 characters per ‘message count’ (what I’m trying to say here, each 160 character message counts as a single ‘Message.’

MMS messages allow you to send up to 5,000 characters a subject line of up to 20 characters, as well as other kinds of multimedia including images, gifs and slides.

They are mobile rich pages linked from within a standard SMS that allows for more dynamic media, details and call-to-actions.

  • RCS stands for Rich Communication Services 

They are the next evolution in SMS messaging, taking the best of OTT (Over the top) messaging such as Whatsapp, Wechat and SMS/MMS combining it together.

RELATED: Read our introductory guide to RCS.

SMS vs OTT: Whatsapp, iMessage/Messages, Facebook Messenger

In the past few years, there’s been a significant rise in OTT application messaging. It is used by messaging apps such as Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s Whatsapp to allow users to communicate with one another. 

DEFINITION: OTT (over the top) application messaging transmits information using internet protocols through specific mobile or web applications.

Unlike phone providers, OTT messaging requires an internet or WIFI connection to send a message. This internet connection can also be supplied by a carrier (your cellular network provider) through your data pack. It also will likely use a specific generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology to do so (i.e. 3G, 4G and now even 5G).

While OTT application messaging sounds great, there are downsides. It requires a constant internet connection, and for both recipients to be using the same chat application. Also, by using them, you are reliant on their centralised systems for data privacy and security, which doesn’t always turn out very well. SMS remains universal, with any kind of mobile phone able to receive a message as long as they are connected to a cellular network.

How SMS works

Generally, the way consumers send SMS is different from how business users send text messages. The major difference is enterprises are often sending bulk messages to many recipients, and therefore have different requirements. Let’s look at this more in-depth.

How SMS works for consumers Messaging 101: How SMS works

FOR CONSUMERS: Using radio waves, a sender broadcasts a message, triggering transmission using a recipient’s mobile phone number as ‘coordinates’. This tells your cellular network where it is going. The sender’s nearest cell tower then receives the signal and uses its network of cell towers to find one closest to the recipient. The recipient is then able to receive their message.


How SMS works when you send through a gateway provider Messaging 101: What is SMS

FOR BUSINESS USERS: The consumer pathway puts too much reliance on your carrier to do most of the hard work. This can be troublesome if attempting to send a mass amount of text messages to recipients over multiple networks and carriers, which can lead to delays and unreliable deliveries. Also your mobile device was not built to send more than a few hundred messages per day! Gateway technology was built to take on the challenge of sending an enormous amount of text messages for multiple customers all at once, while also ensuring that they could be delivered reliably, quickly and without fail. For example, MessageMedia’s gateway can process +10,000 events per second and deliver 95% of messages within 2 seconds.

Instead of sending text messages through a mobile phone or personal device, there are three main ways you can send SMS as an enterprise:

DEFINITION: SMS gateway – an online platform or engine for processing that can rapidly intake and direct huge volumes of SMS in a short amount of time. Usually used for bulk SMS sends for organisations and enterprises. 

Regardless of your choice, each of these entry points gives you access to our SMS gateway which routes messages directly through a provider. Providers may be telecommunications networks or by carriers, cutting out the initial consumer rerouting through your nearest cell tower. 

DEFINITION: Carriers  – In this context, usually a telecommunications network provider authorised by the national government in which it resides to operate mobile or landline networks across the country.

As it moves through this process, our gateway uses certain rules to decide which provider is best to route the message. A number of factors come into play including the content of the message, the recipient and sender’s carrier, type of message (SMS, MMS) and so much more. The gateway will then rank the best pathway forward by looking at the choice of which providers will secure the best, fastest and most reliable delivery. While this can be complex, the most important consideration is the pathway which will take the least number of hops for your message to get to its recipient. 

DEFINITION: Hops – when one data packet passes to another network segment. If an Australian sender on the Telstra carrier is trying to send a text to an American recipient on AT&T, this would take ONE hop. If a UK sender on Vodafone is trying to send to another UK recipient on Vodafone, no hops would occur.

The message then passes through the gateway and is pushed to the recipient until it is delivered successfully. This is how businesses like MessageMedia can send 150M messages per month and serve over 65,000 customers globally through its own scalable infrastructure.

RELATED: Read about all the benefits of sending SMS online through a gateway provider.

Final thoughts, further reading 

Now that you know the very, very basics, we can move onto Messaging 101: What are the benefits of SMS. We’ll take you through:

  • why you should start using it now
  • what business benefits you will see
  • what consumers think about SMS
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