Did you know that the first text message ever sent was Merry Christmas? That’s right… twenty years ago, Neil Papworth sent the message to Richard Jarvis at Vodafone. Text messages were initially limited to 160 characters because that was the maximum length of a message that could be transmitted over the network using the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard, the world’s most widely used mobile communication standard.
What Is SMS?
Text messages are sent and received using Short Message Service (SMS), a store-and-forward service that allows users to send and receive short text messages (up to 160 characters in length) using their mobile phones. SMS messages are transmitted over the network using circuit-switched data technology, which establishes a dedicated connection between the sender and recipient for the duration of the transmission.
While it’s still a mobile device, SMS utilizes a different architecture and protocols than voice. Voice calls are transmitted using circuit-switched voice technology, which establishes a dedicated connection between the caller and the recipient for the duration of the call. CSV uses a different set of protocols and frequency bands than CSD and is optimized for transmitting real-time audio.
Why Were Text Messages First Limited To 160 Characters?
The 160-character limit was chosen because it was thought to be the maximum amount of text that could be effectively displayed on the small screens of mobile phones at the time. The limit has remained in place even as screens have gotten larger, becoming a defining feature of text messaging. The GSM standard uses concatenation technology to allow longer messages to be transmitted as multiple SMS messages. Each SMS message can contain up to 160 characters, which are reassembled into a single message on the recipient’s device.
Mobile Messaging Terms and Definitions
- Short Message Service (SMS) – a text messaging service that allows users to send and receive short text messages (up to 160 characters in length) using their mobile phones.
- Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) – a text messaging service that allows users to send and receive messages that include multimedia content, such as photos, videos, and audio files.
- Rich Communication Services (RCS) – a text messaging service that allows users to send and receive messages that include rich media, such as high-resolution images and videos, and enhanced features like group chat and read receipts.
- Shortcode – a short, numerical code that can be used to send and receive SMS messages. Shortcodes are typically 5 or 6 digits long and are easy to remember, which makes them a convenient way for users to interact with SMS-based services.
- Keyword – a word or phrase associated with a particular shortcode. Users can send a text message to the shortcode with the keyword included in the message to access a specific service or information. For example, a user might send a message to a shortcode with the keyword WEATHER to receive updates on the weather forecast.
- SMS Gateway – An SMS gateway is a software application or hardware device that enables a computer or other device to send and receive SMS messages.
- SMS Application Programming Interface – An SMS API is a set of programming instructions that allows developers to integrate SMS functionality into their applications and systems.
- SMS spam – SMS spam is the unsolicited sending of bulk SMS messages, usually for advertising or phishing.
- SMS firewall – An SMS firewall is a security system that helps protect against spam and other unwanted or malicious SMS messages.
Apple Messages Versus Android Messaging
Apple’s version of text messaging, also known as Messages, is a messaging service built into the iOS operating system and is available on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. iMessage allows users to securely send and receive messages, photos, videos, and other media types over the internet rather than a cellular network. Messages are only compatible with other Apple devices that have Messages enabled, while SMS is compatible with any device that supports SMS. Messages offer additional features not available with SMS, such as the ability to send and receive multimedia messages, group messaging, read receipts, and end-to-end encryption.
Android currently utilizes SMS but is moving towards Rich Communication Services (RCS). RCS is a messaging service designed to improve and replace SMS as mobile devices’ primary text messaging service. It offers several enhanced features and capabilities that are not available with SMS. Like Apple Messages, RCS is delivered over the internet rather than over a cellular network. This means that RCS can be used to send and receive messages even when a user doesn’t have a cellular connection, as long as they have an internet connection. RCS offers several enhanced features not available with SMS, such as sending and receiving high-resolution images and videos, group chat, read receipts, and more. RCS is designed to be compatible with a wide range of devices, including Android and other smartphones, as well as desktop computers and tablets. Currently, Apple is not planning on supporting RCS natively.
What is SMS Marketing?
SMS marketing is using SMS messages to communicate with customers or potential customers for marketing or promoting a product or service. SMS marketing can be used to send a variety of types of messages, including promotional offers, discounts, coupons, event invitations, and other types of marketing content.
SMS marketing is a popular marketing channel because it allows businesses to reach their customers in a highly targeted and personal way, and it has a high response rate compared to other marketing channels. SMS messages are typically read within a few minutes of being received, and they can be used to drive immediate action, such as visiting a store or making a purchase.
Platforms like SimpleTexting allow marketers to capture SMS subscribers by distributing a keyword and shortcode for users to subscribe to text messages. Because text messaging is so intrusive, providers require a double opt-in methodology. That is, you text the keyword to the short code, then you get a request back asking you to opt-in with a notice that the messages could incur charges depending on your provider. SMS marketing platforms typically allow you to personalize and schedule text messages and view campaign effectiveness reports.
Text Messaging Opt-In And Regulations
In many countries, some regulations require businesses and organizations to obtain explicit consent (also known as opt-in) from consumers before sending them SMS marketing messages or other types of SMS-based communications. These regulations protect consumers from unwanted or unsolicited SMS messages and ensure that businesses are transparent and accountable in using SMS for marketing and other purposes.
In the United States, the primary regulation governing SMS marketing is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which requires businesses to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before sending them SMS marketing messages. The TCPA applies to traditional SMS and text messages sent using an SMS API or other automated means.
In the European Union, the primary regulation governing SMS marketing is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires businesses to obtain explicit consent from consumers before processing their data for marketing purposes, including SMS marketing. The GDPR also requires businesses to provide clear and concise information to consumers about their rights and how their data will be used.
SMS Marketing Opt-In Example
SMS marketing platforms require an opt-in that explicitly states how to also opt-out of the communications. Opt-in messages are typically short and concise, and they should clearly explain the nature and purpose of the communications the consumer will receive if they opt-in. Here’s an example:
Hello! Thank you for your interest in [company name’s] SMS marketing. To receive updates, promotions, and other special offers via SMS, please reply ‘YES’ to this message. You may opt out at any time by texting ‘STOP’ to this number. Standard text message rates apply.
The opt-in and opt-out must be both explicit and recorded by the system per regulatory requirements.
Key SMS Statistics
The folks at SimpleTexting have provided some impressive statistics in their article and associated infographics, 50+ Texting & SMS Marketing Statistics. Here are some key takeaways:
- 1 in 3 consumers checks their text notifications within one minute of receiving a text.
- Over half of consumers (51%) reply to a text message within 1-2 minutes.
- Over half of consumers check their text messages at least 11 times daily.
- On an average day, consumers check their text messages more than any other app on their phones.
- In 2022, 70% of consumers opted to receive business texts.
- 61% of consumers say they want the ability to text a business back.
- In 2022, 55% of businesses text their customers.
- The majority of businesses report SMS click-through rates between 20 and 35%.
- 60% of business owners who text their customers plan on increasing their SMS marketing budget in 2022.
The Future of Text Messaging
SMS has been around for over 25 years and is still the world’s most widely used text messaging service. It is supported by virtually all mobile devices and is an essential communication tool for many people and organizations. While RCS and iMessage offer several enhanced features and capabilities, they are not yet as widely available or used as SMS.
It’s also worth noting that SMS and RCS are not mutually exclusive, and a device can support both SMS and RCS. In this case, the device would use RCS if available and fall back to SMS if RCS is not supported. While SMS may eventually be retired as newer technologies become more widely adopted, it is likely that SMS will continue to be used for various applications for the foreseeable future.
Disclosure: Martech Zone is an affiliate of SimpleTexting and used its affiliate links in this article.