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SMS vs MMS: What’s the difference?

By Mint Fox

Originally published July 7, 2022


Last Updated March 3, 2023

Picture of a large word balloon that says SMS vs MMS, a smaller word balloon underneath that says What's The Difference, and a word balloon below that with a picture of Mint Fox shrugging with question marks on either side

Whether you’re texting your mom, your ex or your food delivery person, you’ve probably heard or seen the terms SMS and MMS pop up before. But when comparing SMS vs MMS, what’s the difference between the two? 

  • You typically use SMS messages for when you want to send texts and only texts, while MMS is for when you want to send multimedia messages (in fact, that’s what the two Ms stand for)
  • SMS does not require an internet connection, while MMS does
  • MMS uses more data than SMS–this is because there are more steps to sending an MMS than an SMS (you can learn more about this in a later section)
  • SMS has a length limit (160 characters), while MMS does not have any kind of limit on length–only on file sizes you can send

Now…What does MMS and SMS mean? Learn all about MMS and SMS and their meanings below.

A phone with a word balloon on the screen that says This Is An Example of an SMS

What is SMS?

SMS stands for “short message service.” It’s the oldest and most widespread texting technology we’ve got–in fact, it’s supported by every single mobile network and device. The first SMS ever sent was back in 1992 (source: NPR). SMS is limited to just 160 characters (both numbers and letters) per message–which comes in handy when your BFF wants to rant about her BF. If you go past 160 characters, the texts will be broken up. SMS do not require an internet connection to send or receive SMS. 

Fun fact: 6 billion SMS are sent daily (source: Forrester Research). That’s an s-load of SMS.

A phone with a picture of a cat on the screen and a word balloon below it that says This Is An Example Of An MMS

What is MMS?

MMS stands for “multimedia message service” and is the texting technology we use to send videos, pictures, GIFs and audio files. Did you send a GIF of a raccoon accidentally washing away its cotton candy? Yeah, that’s an MMS. Unlike SMS, they have no limits in length, but they do have a limit in file size–typically up to 5 MB. But also unlike SMS, not every device supports MMS–only smartphones do. They also require an internet connection to send them. 

Second fun fact: Annually, U.S. texters send 96 billion MMS messages (source: CTIA). That’s a lot of cat GIFs.

When should I use SMS?

If you’re only sending a message with text, then you should opt for SMS.

When should I use MMS?

Want to send a video, audio file, selfie or GIF? MMS is the way to go.

How are MMS and SMS sent?

Another difference between MMS vs SMS is the way the two are sent. SMS is sent over a cellular network, so it goes from your phone to the nearest tower. From there, that message goes to the short messaging service center (SMSC), which then sends it to a cell tower near your recipient and then to the recipient. The SMSC is responsible for forwarding text messages for your wireless network (and storing them if they can’t go to the desired destination). Think of it almost like a post office for your wireless network–when you send a package, it goes through the post office before it gets to its destination. It’s the same for your SMS and MMS. 

When an MMS is sent, it goes to a multimedia messaging service center (MMSC). The MMSC sends a notification to the SMSC, which then tells the recipient’s device that an MMS message is waiting for them. Then the recipient’s phone retrieves the message. The MMSC is the same as the SMSC, just for multimedia messages. 

Phew. Sounds like a workout. 

How do I set up MMS for my phone?

If you’re on Mint Mobile, check out our instructions on how to enable MMS on your Android phone. If you have an iPhone, you’re in luck–you don’t have to do anything because it’s typically enabled by default. Sweet.

Are messages sent via messaging apps SMS or MMS?

If you like to send messages to family and friends via apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, or any number of messaging apps, those messages are actually considered MMS because they’re sent using the internet or cellular data. There’s even a special term for them–”over the top” services (OTT), because they are delivered “over the top” of existing services via the internet. If you use something like Google Messages, you can send and receive SMS online, as well as MMS.

MMS and SMS: The E-N-D

Now you know everything there is to know about SMS vs MMS. Next time your parents send you old memes from Facebook, go ahead and thank them for the MMS. And if you’re interested in learning more about your mobile data (and I’m guessing you are if you’ve made it this far), check out our blog breaking down data amounts, data usage, and how to find the right data plan for you.

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