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SMS vs MMS - What’s the Difference?

a man is standing outdoors holding a smartphone in his hand

You’ve heard of SMS and MMS, but if you’ve found your way to this article, you’re wondering exactly what the difference is between these two types of messages. 

In a nutshell, an SMS message is a text-only message up to 160 characters in length. An MMS message can be up to 1,600 characters and include an image, video, emoji, or link. 

SMS messages are sent exclusively over a cellular signal, while an MMS requires the use of cellular data. 

In this article, we'll dig into the differences between SMS and MMS messages in more detail and explain how they can affect your cell phone bill.

What is SMS (Short Message Service)? 

Short Message Service (SMS) is a type of text-only message that has a 160-character limit. It is used around the globe as a way for people to send messages to each other. The adoption of Unicode standards by cell phones means that you can send emojis through SMS messages, but they cannot send pictures, videos, audio clips, or GIFs via SMS. 

Does SMS use data?

SMS does not use data. Instead, it transmits messages using the cellular network’s signaling channel, which is dedicated to facilitating communication between mobile devices. This is reliable, efficient, and cost-effective, as it does not deduct data from your monthly allowance.

Pros and Cons of SMS

Pros of SMS:

  • SMS messages are an easy and reliable way to send messages, and they’re included in most mobile phone plans.
  • SMS messages are universally accessible to anyone who has a mobile phone, and they don’t rely on an Internet connection. This means that SMS messages can be sent and received in areas that have no data coverage. 
  • SMS messages are much faster to send than MMS messages because the file size is typically much smaller. 

Cons of SMS: 

  • SMS is text-only and does not support multimedia content such as images, videos, audio files, or GIFs.
  • An SMS message has a maximum character count of 160, which means it is not designed for long-form communication. While messages can be split and sent separately, this may confuse recipients and lead to fragmentation in conversations. 
  • Message delays or delivery failures may also occur during periods of high network congestion. A good example is during Christmas and New Year when masses of people around the world are sending well wishes for the upcoming year to loved ones. The rise of messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger means that this is less of an issue today, but it was a common problem during the early days of SMS messaging. 

SMS for Business Communication

The accessibility of SMS means that it is often used for business texting and SMS marketing campaigns to increase customer engagement. For instance, small businesses typically use these messages for text marketing, to send notifications to customers regarding sales or discounts, and to collect feedback following a purchase. 

SMS marketing messages can also be used to confirm appointments and cancellations and to send appointment reminders to customers. Depending on their target audience, some businesses opt for MMS marketing over SMS marketing to enhance brand engagement and increase conversion rates. 

Unlike iMessages, SMS and MMS messages are not encrypted. Encryption transforms messages into a secure format so they can only be read by the recipient to prevent unauthorized access.

What is MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)?

A Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) message allows you to send multimedia messages like photos, videos, audio clips, and GIFs.

While MMS relies on the same technology as SMS, it has significantly larger data sizes. While SMS has a 160-character limitation, MMS can be used to send much longer messages — an MMS message can have up to 1,600 characters. This means that MMS requires different network protocols than SMS. 

Does MMS use data?

Unlike SMS, which does not require any data, MMS uses data to transmit media messages. This means MMS messages use data from the user’s mobile data plan (unless you are connected to WiFi).

Pros and Cons of MMS

Pros of MMS: 

  • You can send multimedia messages that include images, videos, audio clips, and GIFs. 
  • You can send much longer messages—the maximum character count is 1,600 per message, compared to 160 per SMS message.
  • You can share content directly within your phone’s messaging apps, which eliminates the need for separate smartphone apps, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. 

Cons of MMS:

  • It requires data, which may cause issues if you have a limited data allowance. If you do not have a cap set on your cell phone plan, using too much data may lead to unexpected charges.
  • The charges for sending MMS messages internationally can be significantly higher than the charges for sending MMS messages domestically. 
  • MMS messages are larger than SMS messages, which means they may also take longer to deliver — especially if the network connection is poor. 

Why Does the Difference Between SMS and MMS Matter? 

Impact on Phone Plan Charges

SMS messages typically have a small file size; as a result, the cost of sending them is typically low. Many phone carriers will allow you to send unlimited SMS messages as part of your cell phone plan. 

MMS messages are typically larger than SMS messages and require data to send and receive. Some phone plans do not include MMS messaging, and phone plans that do include MMS messaging may be more expensive. 

Real-Life Examples of MMS Charges

There are many scenarios where sending MMS messages may lead to unexpected charges. For instance, phone carriers may charge extra if you exceed your data limit or send or receive MMS messages while roaming. Sending or receiving large MMS files also consumes more data and can lead to higher charges, and sending an MMS message to a group of contacts can result in charges for each recipient. These costs can quickly add up.

Choosing the Right Plan Based on Usage

When choosing a phone plan, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what you’ll be using it for, how many text and multimedia messages you want to send, and who you want to send them to. 

Understanding your MMS vs SMS usage is particularly important, as this will help you avoid unexpected phone bill charges. If you plan to send or receive lots of MMS messages, you should make sure you choose a cell phone plan with a larger data allowance. If you want to travel abroad or send messages internationally, you should also factor this into your decision. 

Choosing the right cell phone plan that includes sufficient SMS and MMS messaging allowances and compatible roaming coverage will help prevent potential message delivery issues and reduce the chance of incurring unexpected phone bill charges.

The Bottom Line

SMS messages are an easy and reliable way to communicate. They are universally accessible and quick to send and receive. However, SMS does not support multimedia content, and messages have a 160-character limit. 

MMS allows you to send multimedia messages that are up to 1,600 characters and enables you to share content directly within your phone’s messaging app, eliminating the need for other third-party apps. However, it requires data, and the cost of sending MMS messages internationally can be much higher than the cost of sending MMS messages domestically. The larger file size of these messages also means they can take longer to send and receive.

Whether you primarily send messages via SMS or MMS, Navi’s Plan Finder is a free, unbiased service designed to help you find the best cell phone plan based on your data needs.

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