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Multimedia messages limit

SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) are both used in mobile phones for non-voice communications. Some landline phones also have SMS capability. While both SMS and MMS stand for the service, the abbreviations are often used in common parlance to mean the actual message itself that is sent using the service.

Comparison chart

MMS versus SMS comparison chart
Stands for Multimedia Messaging Service Short Message Service
Transmission mechanism Messages are sent to the message center. They are then sent to the recipient via the internet, if the phone supports MMS formats. If it doesn't, the MMS can be viewed in a web browser.
Challenges Spamming, content adaptation, distribution lists, poor handset capabilities Spoofing and spamming
Size No limit. 160 characters
Usage 1.3 billion active users, 50 billion MMS messages, $26 billion revenue (in 2008) 4.1 trillion SMS text messages were sent generating a revenue of $81 billion (in 2008)


SMS is the abbreviation for Short Message Service and is the text communication service component of a phone or mobile communication system, using standardized communications protocols that allow the exchange of short text messages between fixed line or mobile phone devices.

MMS is the abbreviation for Multimedia Messaging Service and is a standard way to send messages that include multimedia content to and from mobile phones.

History and Evolution

The SMS concept was developed in the Franco-German GSM cooperation in 1984 by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert and Oculy Silaban. The first SMS message was sent over the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom on 3 December 1992. In 2008, 4.1 trillion SMS text messages were sent. SMS has become a massive commercial industry, worth over 81 billion dollars globally as of 2006.

The immediate predecessor to the MMS was the Japanese picture messaging system Sha-Mail introduced by J-Phone in 2001. Early MMS deployments were plagued by technical issues and frequent consumer disappointments but China was one of the early markets to make MMS a major commercial success. In Europe, the most advanced MMS market in 2008 was in Norway, where most Norwegian mobile users sent an average of one MMS per week.

By 2008 worldwide MMS usage level had passed 1.3 billion active users who generated 50 billion MMS messages and produced annual revenues of 26 billion dollars.

SMS Gateways

Short texts are sent to the Short Message Service Center (SMSC) which provides a store and forward mechanism. The message is either sent or queued for retry if the first attempt fails. Some centers also accommodate a ‘forward and forget’ option where the message is sent once and then discarded. This service can be availed of, by users who send a message from a cell phone or receive a text message on it. Customers can always request for delivery reports to confirm if their messages have been received by the other party.

MMS Transmission

The initial process of sending and receiving an MMS is the same as receiving an SMS. The process changes when the message center has to forward the MMS to the recipient. If the receiver of the message is on another carrier, then the MMS is sent via the internet to the recipient’s carrier. It is then determined by the message center if the recipient’s handset is capable of receiving an MMS. If yes, a URL is sent to the phone as a text message in order to let the browser in the phone display the content. If the MMS viewing facility is not available, then the recipient can simply view the message in a web browser.

For consumers

Challenges associated with sending an SMS include spoofing and spamming. Spoofing is a process by which a fraudster impersonates a user by manipulating the address information and sends messages to the home network. Consumers may give away their personal information and become a victim of such spoofing attacks.

SMS spamming, on the other hand, is a process by which a user is sent promotional messages regarding various products very often, even if he hasn’t subscribed to that service.

Sending and receiving an MMS can pose a problem if the handset is not capable of receiving multimedia messages or if the configuration is not set correctly.

For wireless service providers

Sending text messages does not pose problems for wireless carriers because the technology has been perfected over the years. However, under extreme circumstances, service providers find their networks to be jammed. This hinders the free flow of messages from senders to receivers.

Content adaptation is one of the biggest problems that wireless carriers have to face with MMS messages. This includes changing the format of the MMS in order for the recipient to read it correctly. Distribution lists also pose certain problems where bulk MMS sending facilities cannot be replicated as they are with SMS.

Poor handset configurations are also a big problem service providers face with respect to sending MMS messages. If the handset configurations are not upto the mark, sending and receiving MMSs can fail miserably.


A standard SMS is usually 160 characters in length and can be sent from any regular mobile phone. A standard MMS does not have a specific character limit. One can, however, send music, animation and other interactive media with a MMS from a specially designed cellular handset that is capable of receiving and sending multimedia messages.


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