What is an SMS Message?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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SMS is an acronym for short message service. This service, which is also commonly called text messaging, allows users to quickly send and receive messages using their cell phones. Many people believe that when messages are sent there is communication directly between the sender’s phone and the recipient’s phone, but this is not true. The message must travel through other parts of the cellular network.

For a cell phone to be an effective piece of equipment, it requires a cell phone tower. The line of transmission between the tower and the phone is called the control channel. After a person creates an SMS message, he will press a “send” command on his mobile phone. Doing this causes the message to be sent by way of the control channel. It will go to an SMS center, which is much like a routing station.

A SMS center’s purpose is to direct the message where it needs to go. Once this is determined, the message is sent through a cell phone tower and using another control channel, it is then transmitted to the recipient’s cell phone. In some instances, the recipient may not be available. When this is the case, the message is not lost. It is stored until it can be sent.


It is not always necessary to have two cellular phones to send an SMS message. Text can be sent, for example, from a laptop to a cell phone and vice versa. In any case, when a person receives a text message, it may or may not look as it did when it was sent. In some cases, certain files or special characters cannot be sent from one cellular carrier’s network to another.

The first “S” of SMS stands for short because there are limited number of characters that can fit into a message. Characters can include letters, symbols, and spaces. Generally, if a person exceeds this limit, the message can still be sent if the sender has sufficient credit to send numerous messages. The reason that he will need credit for more than one message is because no more than the allowed number of characters will be sent in a single SMS message. If, for example, 200 characters is the maximum, 600 characters would be divided into three messages.

An SMS message can be used for many things. Some are used for broadcasting, which is similar to sending bulk emails. Broadcasting involves sending a single message to large numbers of people. Text messages can also be used to send automatic alerts. An example of this is when people receive automatic notification when their bank or credit cards are used.


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