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What is SMS?

By Madeline Cervantes

Originally published June 11, 2024


Last Updated June 11, 2024

Mint Fox texting. We see his text bubble above his head. It reads, “What is SMS?”

For many of us, text messaging is a fun, convenient way to communicate with each other (minus the ghosting). On your texting journey, you may have heard of another term: SMS messaging. Have you wondered what that term actually means? And how is it different from MMS? We’re here to answer all of your SMS questions – starting with “what is SMS messaging?” Time to dig into the gr8 and LOL-filled world of SMS.

In this article

What does SMS mean?

SMS stands for Short Message Service.

What is SMS messaging? 

Oh, you want more than just a one sentence answer? We got you. SMS refers to the technological service used to transmit text messages between phones.

It’s the oldest and most widespread texting technology we’ve got — in fact, every single mobile network and device has used SMS for quite some time now. Fun phone fact: The first ever SMS was sent in December 1992. It read, “Merry Christmas” (cue the holiday spirit)1. Another fun fact? 23 billion SMS are sent daily.2 That’s an s-load of SMS.

Close on a phone screen with a text bubble that reads “What is SMS messaging?”

SMS vs. MMS: What’s the difference? 

Acronyms can be scary, but we’re here to break it down. As stated above, SMS stands for Short Message Service and only handles text messages. Meanwhile, MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service and delivers pictures, video, and audio along with text messages. 

MMS has no character limit, but SMS has a 160 character limit. You can still send those juicy essay-length text messages, but the message will be broken up into six parts or 918 total characters, depending on the length. But usually, the messages are reassembled for whoever you’re sending them to, so they’ll never know the difference.

It also costs wireless carriers less to send a SMS due to its simplicity. SMS’s simplicity also allows it to be sent from any kind of cellphone, while MMS is only compatible with smartphones. Both SMS and MMS serve different, yet equally important roles in the world of texting. For what is a witty comeback without a silly GIF to punctuate it and what is a silly GIF without a witty comeback to give it context?

Chart detailing the differences between SMS and MMS:
SMS: text only, 160 character limit, cheaper, any phone
MMS: photo, audio, videos, and text, no character limit, costs more, requires smartphone

How are SMS messages sent?

SMS uses a cellular network to travel from your phone to the nearest tower. From the tower, that message goes to the SMSC (acronym alert — that stands for short messaging service center) and then to the recipient. 

The SMSC acts like a post office for your wireless network. They’re responsible for forwarding text messages for your network (and storing them if they can’t be delivered). But instead of a package, it’s a text message that reads, “same lol”. 

Does SMS use data? 

For the most part, no, they do not (iMessage can use a negligible amount – like 1MB for several thousands of messages). SMS uses cellular networks to deliver their messages instead of using mobile data. However, you should make sure that SMS is included in your phone plan otherwise you could be getting a small charge for each text. And no one wants to get charged for sending a “K” text. All Mint plans include Unlimited Talk & Text, so Mint subscribers are free to twiddle their thumbs without fear of being charged. 

Flex those thumbs with SMS

You now know how texting works in theory, but do you know how to text IRL? We have a master class on texting etiquette in case you’re unsure; and if you want to know more about what is MMS exactly, we’ve got you covered there too. We hope this info empowers you to LOL, OMG, and BRB to your heart’s content. To learn more about our Unlimited Talk and Text, among other features, just click the button below.

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