SMS vs. MMS: Key differences explained
We break down the differences between SMS and MMS, from pricing to messaging restrictions.
By Emily Bowen
Although SMS and MMS may appear similar, they offer distinct capabilities and use cases. This comprehensive guide will explore the key differences between SMS and MMS and their applications in person-to-person (P2P) and application-to-person (A2P) messaging. We’ll also help you determine which messaging type best suits your business requirements, arming you with the insights needed to harness the full potential of your communication strategy.
Understanding SMS and MMS
SMS and MMS are two distinct messaging protocols that cater to different communication needs. In this section, we'll explore the fundamental differences between SMS and MMS, including their features and unique use cases, to better understand these widely used messaging services.
What is SMS?
SMS (Short Message Service) is a messaging protocol that enables the transmission of simple, plain text messages over traditional cellular phone networks. SMS is a simple, reliable, cost-effective solution for sending plain text messages without an internet connection. It is ideal for appointment reminders, order confirmations, and other text-based notifications.
Unlike other messaging services, SMS does not require an internet connection, making it a reliable and cost-effective way to communicate with mobile phone users across the globe.
SMS is a versatile messaging solution adopted by various industries to improve communication and enhance customer experiences.
SMS is a more appropriate and efficient choice when a brief text-only message suffices—such as an appointment reminder or two-factor authentication (2FA) code. Below are specific examples of how businesses across different sectors utilize SMS.
Banking and finance
In the banking and finance sectors, organizations use SMS for 2FA, fraud alerts, and account balance updates. Updating customers ensures they’re informed about their account activities, enhancing overall account security.
SMS is a valuable tool in healthcare for sending appointment reminders, prescription refill notifications, and test result updates. By leveraging SMS, medical professionals can ensure patients are well-informed, reducing missed appointments and promoting timely care.
Travel and hospitality
SMS is a vital component in the travel and hospitality industry, as it can be used to send booking confirmations, flight updates, and hotel check-in details. Providing timely information through SMS helps create a seamless travel experience for customers.
For e-commerce businesses, SMS enables efficient communication through order confirmations, shipping and delivery updates, and abandoned cart notifications. Keeping customers in the loop helps build customer trust, improves their shopping experience, and can increase sales.
For telecommunications companies, SMS is an effective way to gather customer feedback through satisfaction surveys, inform customers about policy changes, and assist with password resets. Gathering feedback enhances the customer experience and encourages loyalty.
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SMS vs. MMS
Understanding the unique capabilities and use cases of both SMS and MMS is crucial for businesses to leverage these messaging services and optimize their communication strategies effectively.
When it comes to mobile messaging, businesses often wonder which protocol best fits their communication needs. By understanding the key differences and limitations of each messaging protocol, you can make a strategic decision and optimize your mobile communication strategy.
In this section, we’ll explore the key differences between SMS and MMS, from message delivery methods to device compatibility, to help you make an informed decision.
6 key differences between SMS and MMS
There are six key differences between SMS and MMS:
|How messages are sent
|Sent through standard cellular service without internet connection
|Requires cellular data (internet)
|What message content is supported
|Alphanumeric characters only (no images, video or audio)
|Alphanumeric characters, images, video, and audio
|Length and character limitations
|160 character limit—longer texts will be broken into multiple messages—and high throughput rate
|1,600 character limit (most carriers limit MMS to 3.75MB)
|Typically between $0.01 and $0.05 per message
|Typically between $0.04 and $0.20 per message
|All mobile phones can receive SMS messages
|Only mobile phones with internet connectivity, like smartphones, can receive MMS
Message delivery methods
SMS messages are transmitted over cellular networks using standard data packets. They’re sent from the sender's mobile phone (for P2P messages) or an application (for A2P messages) to the nearest cell tower, then to the SMS message center, and finally to the recipient's device.
In contrast, MMS messages follow a slightly more complex process involving a multimedia messaging service center (MMSC). Here’s what happens when someone sends an MMS message:
- The message is submitted to the MMSC.
- The MMSC sends an SMS notification to the recipient's device.
- The notification prompts the recipient’s device to retrieve the MMS message from the MMSC.
This additional infrastructure makes MMS messages more expensive than SMS messages.
Supported content types
The primary difference between SMS and MMS lies in the content they support. SMS is limited to plain text, while MMS can include multimedia content like images, videos, and audio files, resulting in a higher cost for MMS messages. However, each messaging type has its own set of use cases, making it essential to choose the one that best suits your business’s goals.
Character and data limitations
MMS messages have a significant advantage regarding size limitations. SMS messages have a 160-character limit, while MMS messages can hold up to 1,600 characters and up to 3.75MB of data. However, most carriers impose lower sending limits for MMS messages due to the additional resources required for their transmission.
SMS messages typically cost between $0.01 and $0.05 per text, with variations depending on the carrier. On the other hand, MMS messages tend to cost about the same as sending four or five SMS messages due to the inclusion of multimedia content. The choice between SMS and MMS will largely depend on your specific use case and budget.
While almost any mobile device can receive SMS messages, only more advanced devices like smartphones can receive MMS messages. According to Statistica, in 2024, nearly 7 billion people use smartphones, compared to 3.6 billion in 2016.
MMS compatibility is less of a concern for businesses targeting a broad audience. However, for critical communications like appointment reminders and payment processing, SMS might be a safer choice to ensure message delivery.
Ultimately, the choice between SMS and MMS depends on your business's specific communication needs and target audience. SMS offers a simple, reliable, and cost-effective way to transmit plain text messages, whereas MMS allows for the inclusion of engaging multimedia content.
10 examples of business messaging in practice
There are two main types of SMS and MMS messages: Person-to-Person (P2P) and Application-to-Person (A2P). The main difference between P2P (person-to-person) and A2P messaging is the origin of the messages in question. While a P2P message is sent directly from one individual’s mobile device to another, an A2P message passes through an application or platform before it reaches the recipient.
A2P messaging is preferred over P2P in business settings due to its centralized control, automation, scalability, and enhanced security, which enable more efficient and targeted communication with customers while ensuring compliance with regulations.
Here are some use cases and examples of ways that businesses can leverage messaging:
- Appointment reminders: Medical practices, salons, or other businesses send automated reminders to customers about upcoming appointments, reducing no-shows and cancellations.
- Alerts: Companies inform users about critical events or updates, such as service outages, security breaches, or emergency notifications.
- Customer support: A customer service representative helps a customer resolve an issue or answer a question through a text conversation, providing personalized support.
- Authentication codes: Deliver one-time passwords (OTPs) or two-factor authentication (2FA) verification codes, enhancing account security.
- Order confirmations: E-commerce businesses send order confirmations, providing customers with purchase details and reinforcing trust in the buying process.
- Delivery updates: A delivery driver communicates with the customer to confirm delivery details or provide real-time updates, ensuring a smooth delivery experience.
- Promotional messages: Retailers or service providers send targeted promotional messages, including sales announcements, discount offers, or new product launches.
- Customer loyalty rewards: Businesses reward loyal customers with special offers, exclusive discounts, or personalized recommendations..
- Lead qualification: A sales rep reaches out to a potential lead to assess their needs and determine if the prospect is a good fit for the company's products or services.
- Account balance notifications: Banks or financial institutions send account balance updates, helping customers stay informed about their financial status.
By understanding the differences between P2P and A2P how businesses can better leverage SMS and MMS to meet their communication objectives and enhance customer engagement.
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SMS vs. MMS: Which is right for your business?
To make an informed decision between SMS and MMS, evaluating your business use case, communication goals, message length, content type, and target audience is essential. Below, we’ll provide practical advice to help you choose the right messaging solution for your needs.
When to use SMS
SMS is the ideal choice when you can convey essential information to your customers in plain text within the 160-character limit. In such cases, there's no need to incur the additional cost of sending an MMS message. SMS is also an excellent option if a significant portion of your customer base doesn't have smartphones or if you send simple text alerts like order confirmations, appointment reminders, or delivery updates.
Remember that SMS messages exceeding 160 characters will be split into multiple messages, which may impact the customer experience.
When to use MMS
MMS is a more suitable option when you need to send messages longer than 160 characters. With a generous 1,600-character limit, it can be more cost-effective and user-friendly to send a single MMS message instead of multiple SMS messages. MMS is also necessary when sending images, videos, or other multimedia content.
Incorporating MMS into your marketing strategy can lead to 15% to 20% higher engagement rates than SMS-only campaigns.
The enhanced visual appeal and richer content can make the extra cost worthwhile for boosting customer engagement.
As you refine and optimize your customer journey, different situations will arise where either SMS or MMS will better suit your communication needs. By considering the factors above, you can make the best choice to enhance your messaging strategy and better serve your customers.
Frequently asked questions about SMS vs. MMS
Here are some common questions we receive about SMS and MMS:
What are the main differences between SMS and MMS messaging?
The main differences between SMS and MMS messaging are the content types they support, data requirements, and costs. SMS supports plain text messages up to 160 characters, while MMS allows longer texts and multimedia content, such as images, videos, and audio files.
SMS does not require an internet connection, whereas MMS relies on a data connection for media transmission. Generally, MMS messages are more expensive to send compared to SMS messages.
Can all devices receive SMS and MMS messages?
Most modern mobile devices can receive both SMS and MMS messages. However, older devices and those with limited functionalities may only support SMS messaging.
Additionally, only devices with an active data connection can receive MMS messages, as they require internet access to transmit multimedia content.
Are SMS and MMS messages secure?
Both SMS and MMS messages offer a certain level of security, but they’re not entirely immune to potential risks. To ensure secure communication, consider using end-to-end encryption messaging apps or applying additional security measures such as two-factor authentication (2FA).
Can I send group messages using SMS and MMS?
Yes, both SMS and MMS support group messaging. When sending a group message via SMS, the conversation will be handled as individual messages to each recipient, and their replies will be sent only to the original sender.
In contrast, MMS group messaging allows for a more interactive group chat experience, where all recipients can view and participate in the conversation.
Can I convert an MMS message to an SMS message?
In most cases, it's impossible to directly convert an MMS message to an SMS message, as MMS supports multimedia content that cannot be transmitted via SMS. However, you can extract the text content from an MMS message and send it as a separate SMS message, provided it falls within the 160-character limit.
As businesses increasingly seek effective ways to reach their audience, understanding the nuances of SMS and MMS messaging becomes more critical. These platforms offer unique advantages for engaging customers, from the simplicity and wide reach of SMS to the enhanced, interactive experiences made possible by MMS.
Get started with SMS or MMS
Understanding the differences between SMS and MMS is crucial for businesses to communicate effectively with their customers and adapt to the dynamic digital landscape. While SMS excels in cost-effectiveness, speed, and device compatibility, MMS can send rich media content, enhancing the overall user experience.
To stay competitive and adapt to your audience's needs, choosing the right messaging type for your business is important. By carefully considering factors such as message content, length, cost, and device compatibility, you can ensure that your messaging strategy effectively engages your customers and drives growth in today's ever-evolving digital landscape.
Ultimately, businesses must weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each messaging type based on their specific use cases, whether it be P2P or A2P messaging.
"SMS and MMS will continue to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of businesses and consumers alike. At Telnyx, we're committed to staying ahead of the curve, delivering innovative messaging solutions that harness the power of these technologies and enable businesses to thrive in an ever-shifting digital landscape."
— Barry Reynolds, Technical Product Manager of Messaging at Telnyx
If you’re ready to harness the full potential of SMS and MMS for your business, our knowledgeable professionals can guide you through the process of selecting the ideal messaging solution tailored to your unique needs, ensuring seamless integration and optimal results.
Contact our team of experts to unlock the power of SMS and MMS for your business.
Note: always consult your legal team and the appropriate regulatory authorities before using SMS or MMS messaging for your business. In the meantime, be sure to read our Compliance Guide to help demystify some of the rules and regulations surrounding business messaging.