Mobile phones have become a commodity. Today, people use cellular devices to connect with the world, shop, share videos, and even pay bills. Unsurprisingly, SMS and MMS have become standard marketing tools in the business world.

Despite the immense popularity of over-the-top (OTT) apps, which use Internet Protocols (IPs) and bypass traditional distribution, texting is still one of the most common and popular means of communication.

In 2018 alone, there were approximately two trillion texts exchanged — that’s equivalent to 5.5 billion texts per day and over 63,000 texts per second. Today, 96% of Americans own a cellphone, 85% of which are smartphones. Roughly 1-in-5 of these consumers only use or primarily use a smartphone as their means of online access. And by 2025, smartphones are expected to for 80% of all connections.

It’s no wonder then that businesses are increasingly using SMS and MMS to initiate personalized A2P and P2P communications. Read on to find out how these two messaging protocols work and the difference between SMS and MMS.

A man standing with a large text message icon with its content displayed, and a large cellphone with a text message displayed on its screen.

SMS — The Short Message Service

Most carriers in the U.S. offer unlimited texting plans, which makes SMS services nearly free to use. SMS is an acronym for Short Message Service. The messaging service is one of the oldest texting technologies. It dates back to the 1980s, and the first text message via SMS protocol was sent in 1992.

SMS is a special protocol designed for sending and receiving text messages over cellular network connections. The standard length of a text message sent via SMS is 160 characters. If a text exceeds that limit, it automatically splits up into multiple segments.

Today, businesses use mass texting services for sending SMS to end-users. According to U.S. carrier regulations, companies must either use a short code or long code to send SMS messages. Mass texting apps help organizations add security protocols for protecting their customers from malicious practices.

A man standing with a cellphone hovering beside with an mms alert displayed on its screen and another text message icon that is being opened with a small text message icon beneath it containing contents of a multimedia message and all of the formats that it can accept

MMS — The Multimedia Messaging Service

Essentially, MMS is an extension of the core SMS protocol. Multimedia Messaging Service aims to allow users to send multimedia content via text message. Therefore, you can also send pictures, audios, videos, and contact cards with text messages.

The standard length of a text message sent via MMS is greater than 160 characters. However, you must have a data package to send and receive a multimedia message. Usually, most carriers can handle data up to 300 KB.

Some carriers reliably handle MMS messages containing up to 500 KB of data, which is enough for a 30-second video file. Therefore, the number of images you can send via an MMS depends on the file size. Similarly, the amount of files sent via MMS depends on the sender’s and recipient’s monthly data package.

SMS vs. MMS — The Difference

Though SMS and MMS have some similarities, they are also different in many regards. Below are a few of them.

1. Accessibility

The SMS text messaging technology is universal; every cellular network and mobile device supports SMS. From smartphones to other mobile devices, all of them come equipped with an SMS texting feature. But unlike SMS, not every cell phone is MMS-enabled. When you send an MMS to a phone that can’t accept multimedia content, the message appears as a plain text. Therefore, the sender and receiver both require a data package for communication via the MMS protocol.

2. Message Length

Another difference between an SMS and MMS is the character limit per text. The character count for an SMS is 160, whereas MMS messages do not have a standard limit. An SMS automatically splits into segments when it exceeds the 160 character limit. However, the amount and size of MMS you can send depends on the carrier and the recipient’s mobile configuration.

3. Content Limitations

With SMS, you can only send plain texts or links to the multimedia content; you cannot add the items within the body of the text. MMS gives you the freedom to embed media files, such as images, videos, audios, and gifs. However, you can only send or receive interactive media if your cellular device is equipped with an MMS facility.

4. Transmission Mechanism

When you send a text message via SMS, it goes to a Short Message Service Center (SMSC). These centers offer a store and forward mechanism. They send or queue the message for resending. Some centers also provide a "forward and forget" feature, which discards the message once sent.

The transmission mechanism of an MMS is similar to sending and receiving SMS at the initial stage. However, the process changes when the message center forwards the MMS to the recipient on another carrier.

The center sends the MMS via the internet and determines if the recipient’s phone set is MMS equipped. If it is, then the center sends a URL to the recipient as a text message so that the phone browser can display the content. In case the phone does not have MMS viewing facility, the recipient can view the message in a web browser.

5. SMS Marketing vs. MMS Marketing

When it comes to using text messaging as a branding tool, companies typically incorporate both SMS and MMS protocols. Both have distinct advantages. For example, SMS does not require additional app downloads. Businesses use SMS texting for various purposes, such as:

  • Marketing promotions, such as announcing an upcoming product launch or sale
  • Reminders or alert notifications
  • Sending individualized messages to customers, such as on birthdays or anniversaries
  • Customer onboarding notifications

MMS marketing is also gaining popularity in the business world. Many businesses use the MMS protocol to distribute promotional videos and branded content. With MMS, businesses send media to supplement their communication and make their marketing campaign more effective. They use multimedia messaging for:

  • Announcing new product launches with product images included
  • Sending short audio or video clips for promotional offers
  • Sending coupon images
  • Inviting for events
  • Marketing campaigns, such as text-to-win

It is important to identify the needs and goals of your organization before choosing between SMS marketing and MMS marketing. However, with the right SMS API, you also don't have to choose. APIs such as CDYNE's SMS Notify! API supports real-time communication with both SMS numbers and MMS-enabled numbers.

No matter what marketing method and API you chose, make sure that you send marketing content to the consumer only after receiving consent. Above all, ensure the content of your message does not violate the texting guidelines enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).