At first glance, SMS and MMS messages may appear similar when they appear on your phone's screen. However, each of these message types has unique properties. As a business, it's important to choose the messaging service that best suits your use case. Here's what you need to know.
What are SMS messages?
SMS (short message service)messages are clear, simple text messages that can be transmitted over traditional cell phone networks. You don't need an Internet connection to send or receive an SMS message; Standard cell service will suffice. SMS is a simple and affordable way to send messages to any mobile phone, anywhere in the world.
What are MMS messages?
MMS (multimedia messaging service)Messages are capable of transmitting images, videos, and audio to most mobile devices. For a device to receive a media file, it must have an Internet connection; Cellular service alone is not enough to stream audio and visual media. The Internet connection required to support MMS is usually achieved through mobile data networks. You can of course send text in an MMS message. However, in most cases, MMS is not as efficient for sending text-only messages as SMS.
SMS x MMS
The biggest difference betweenSMSmimultimedia messagesis thatSMS can only send plain text
Sending multimedia content requires additional network infrastructure and device compatibility, as images, videos, and audio consume more data than plain text. It is this added infrastructure that creates cost differences and sending limits between SMS and MMS.
A2P vs. P2P messaging
The SMS and MMS messages that a business sends fall into two main categories: person-to-person (P2P) and application-to-person (A2P).
p2p messagesoccurs when two people use phone numbers to exchange messages. Some examples of P2P include:
- 1 to 1 customer service
- Qualification of prospects by a sales representative
- Internal correspondence of employees
- Messaging between a courier and the customer
A2P messagingOccurs when an application sends a message to the mobile phone of a human end user. A2P is most often used for one-way communication. Some examples of A2P include:
- appointment reminders
- authentication codes
- order confirmations
- promotional messages
- Customer Loyalty Rewards
- Account balance notifications
6 main differences between SMS and MMS
There are six main differences between SMS and MMS:
|How messages are sent||Sent via standard cellular service without an Internet connection||Requires mobile data (internet)|
|What message content is supported||Alphanumeric characters only (no images, video or audio)||Alphanumeric characters, images, video and audio|
|Character and length limitations||160 character limit: longer texts will be split into multiple messages and high performance||1600 character limit (most carriers limit MMS to 3.75 MB)|
|Cost||Typically between $0.01 and $0.05 per message||Typically between $0.04 and $0.20 per message|
|device compatibility||All mobile phones can receive SMS messages||Only mobile phones with an Internet connection, such as smartphones, can receive MMS|
How SMS and MMS messages are sent
SMS messages are sent over cellular networks using standard cellular data packets. The SMS message is sent from the sender's cell phone (for P2P messages) or the app (for A2P messages) to the nearest cell tower. That message is then sent to the SMS message center, which passes the message to a cell tower near the recipient and to the recipient.
MMS messages use part of this delivery infrastructure, but the process is a bit more complex. When an MMS message is sent, it is sent to a multimedia messaging service center (MMSC).
The MMSC sends an SMS notification to the Short Message Service Center (SMSC), which notifies the recipient's device that there is an MMS message waiting at the MMSC. Finally, the recipient's phone retrieves the MMS message from the MMSC.
This may seem irrelevant. However, since sending an MMS message requires two service centers and sending an SMS message to request the recipient's phone to retrieve the MMS message from the MMSC, MMS messages are more expensive to send.
What message content is supported
We have already mentioned that this is the main difference between SMS and MMS, and it is what justifies the higher cost of sending MMS messages. Messages with visual or audio content aremore attractive than text-only messages.
However, that doesn't make MMS a one-size-fits-all solution. There are use cases where SMS is more efficient and effective.
Character and length limitations
Since MMS messages are sent using mobile data, they can be much larger than SMS messages. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters. On the other hand, MMS messages have a limit of 1600 characters. MMS messages also have data limits. Many operators limit MMS messages to 3.75 MB of data.
Most carriers also have lower sending limits for MMS messages, since they require more resources. However, message rate throttling is typically measured in the number of messages per second or minute, so throttling is only an issue if you're sending bulk messages to thousands of people.
SMS and MMS cost differences
typicalcost of sending SMS messagesit costs between $0.01 and $0.05 per text message. However, some operators charge less (and others charge more).
On most carriers, sending one MMS message with visual content costs about the same as sending four or five SMS messages. However, that doesn't mean it's not worth sending MMS messages; it depends on your use case.
Almost any mobile device can receive an SMS message, but only the most advanced devices, such as smartphones, can receive MMS messages. If your device can't display an image or video, it simply can't display the media in an MMS message.
The number of smartphone users has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2022, Statistica reported that6.6 billion people(84% of the world's population) use smartphones, up from 3.6 billion in 2016.
Unless your business serves a small subset of the population that probably doesn't have a smartphone, you probably don't have to worry about MMS messages going wrong. However, for critical communication, such as appointment reminders and accepting payments via text message, businesses sometimes choose SMS to make sure their message gets through.
Should your business use SMS or MMS?
By evaluating your use case and identifying the objectives of your communications, you can easily determine what type of message best suits your needs.
If you can communicate what your customers need to know in plain text, under 160 characters, there's no reason to pay the price of sending an MMS message.
However, it's worth noting that SMS messages longer than 160 characters will be split into multiple messages. Since MMS messages are limited to 1,600 characters, it may be more cost-effective to send a single MMS message instead of multiple SMS messages. If you plan to send long messages, MMS can be cheaper and easier to use (your customers won't get multiple message alerts every time you contact them).
If you are sending photos or videos, you will need to send MMS messages. But why would you need to send images and videos?
Businesses benefit from the use of MMS in their marketing campaigns. In fact, MMS marketing campaigns see15% to 20% better engagementthan SMS campaigns, so sending MMS messages can definitely be worth the extra cost.
Even in marketing, SMS has its place. For example, it is advisable to use SMS if you know that a large part of your customer base does not have smartphones. It's also more cost effective to use SMS for plain text alerts that contain things like order confirmations, appointment reminders, or delivery updates.
Ultimately, as you design and optimize your customer journey, different instances emerge where SMS or MMS is better suited for the task at hand.
SMS use cases
SMS is a direct and cost-effective way to send texts like:
- appointment reminders
- order confirmations
- Shipping and delivery updates
- 2-factor authentication (2FA)
- Time sensitive alerts
- Customer satisfaction surveys
- Policy change notifications
- password reset
MMS use cases
MMS is useful for sending long text or multimedia messages such as: Promotions (coupons, discounts, sales)
- Announcements of new products or services
- step by step video
- Customer Support (Please send screenshots when troubleshooting, provide alternate item photos,
- Eye-Catching Marketing Campaigns
- product demos
- Form or file sharing
- event invitations
- Abandoned cart notifications
SMS vs MMS Infographic
Check out our infographic below to learn more about the differences that SMS and MMS offer and how to take advantage of them for your business communications.
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