What is SMS?

Millions of people use SMS text messages on a daily basis, but what is it exactly? Short Message Service (SMS) is a method of communication that sends text messages between cell phones, or from a computer or handheld device to a cell phone. The messages are considered “short” due to the maximum size of 160 characters (letters, numbers or symbols).

SMS text messages are not only used for person-to-person communication but also organization-to-subscriber for a variety of services including marketing, promotions, emergency alerts and entertainment services. SMS is also a convenient way for deaf and hearing-impaired people to communicate.

SMS Text Messaging is currently the most widely used data application in the world with billions of users. As recently reported by CTIA – The Wireless Association, in the United States alone there are over 327 million wireless subscribers. 1.14 trillion text messages were sent in the first six months of 2011.

Recent findings from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project state that approximately 73% of adult cell phone owners use the text messaging function on their phone at least occasionally. Text messaging users send or receive more than 40 messages per day on average, and cell phone owners between the ages of 18 and 24 send an average of 109.5 messages per day.

So how does it work?

Cell Phone

When your cell phone is turned on, even when not in use, it is constantly sending and receiving cell phone tower information via a control channel pathway. When someone sends you an SMS message, the message flows through the short message service center (SMSC), then to the tower, and the tower sends the message to your phone as a little packet of data on the control channel. In the same way, when you send a message, your phone sends it to the tower on the control channel and it goes from the tower to the SMSC and from there to its destination.

Message data includes not only the message content, but also the length of the message, a time stamp, and the destination phone number. Your cell phone does not have to be active or in range to receive a message. The message will be stored in the SMSC (for days if necessary) until you turn on your cell phone on or move into range, at which point the message is delivered. The message will remain stored on your cell phone SIM card until you delete it.

The Short Message Peer-to-Peer (SMPP) protocol is an industry protocol for sending SMS text messages between peer entities like short message service centers. It is used to allow service providers like news organizations and text marketing companies to submit messages in mass format to individuals.

An SMS gateway can allow SMS text messages to be sent and received by email via Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), from web pages or from other software applications. By attaching the appropriate wireless carrier domain name to a cell phone number, it becomes an address capable of receiving text messages.

SMS Advantages

  • Allows discreet conversations.
  • Does not require access to a computer.
  • SMS doesn’t overload the network as much as phone calls.
  • High visibility as most phones allow some sort of push notification to alert recipients of message immediately upon receipt.

SMS Disadvantages

  • Cost. Some wireless plans only charge for user-originated messages, while others charge for incoming messages as well.
  • No guarantee of immediate delivery, as periods of high traffic can delay messages by minutes or even hours.
  • SMS does not support sending pictures, video or music files.

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