Short Message Service

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What Does Short Message Service Mean?

Short Message Service (SMS) is the most basic communications technology for mobile data transfer and is characterized by the exchange of short alphanumeric text messages between digital line and mobile devices. SMS messaging's key influential factor is affordability.


SMS messages hold up to 140 bytes (1,120 bits) of data, which allows a 160-character alphanumeric message in the default 7-bit alphabet or a 70-character message in a non-Latin language, such as Chinese.

SMS is also known as text messaging.

Techopedia Explains Short Message Service

SMS is supported by all Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) mobile phones and is also available on third generation (3G) wireless networks.

SMS messages are also sent via Web-based browser applications, instant message (IM) applications and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications, such as Skype. An SMS message is sent from a device to a Short Message Service Center (SMSC), which, in turn, communicates with mobile networks to determine the subscriber's location. Then, the message is forwarded as a small data packet to the destination device. Subsequent messages sent by the original source device undergo the same process, also known as store and forward.

SMS streamlines communication on many levels, as follows:

  • Quick communication: Brief updates between family and friends
  • Alerts: Voicemail, sales lead inquiries, appointments, meetings or deliveries
  • Enhanced messaging service (EMS): Facilitates ring tone, image and simple media transfer

SMS adoption continues to expand globally since the first SMS message was sent in 1992 via Vodafone's GSM network. Over 2.4 billion users, or nearly 75 percent of mobile subscribers, use SMS.

The SMS boom generated sweeping commercial market success. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the SMS industry achieved a global worth of over $81 billion as of 2006. In 2008, approximately four trillion SMS messages were transmitted worldwide.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.