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SMS for Business 101: What is SMS?

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You probably see it all over the place. You've at least seen it enough to find this post, and I'm sure you've used it thousands of times to communicate with friends, clients, coworkers, and family. But what exactly is SMS?

The simple answer

SMS is an acronym for Short Messaging Service. A "short message" is more commonly known as a "text message," and is a piece of electronic data with a size limit equal to 160 characters in the English language (for languages like Chines or Arabic, the size limit is equal to 70 characters).

A character is a letter, space, punctuation mark, number, or symbol. It's basically anything you could find on a standard keyboard - or in this post, for that matter.

Why is SMS 160 characters?

When SMS was being created, the same great bandwidth/internet speed that is easily accessible today was not available at all.

SMS messages consist of 7-bit characters, meaning that every letter, space punctuation mark, etc. is a piece of data that is 7 bits in size. 7 bits multiplied by 160 characters is equal to 1,120 bits of data.

This size of data is more commonly converted and referred to as 140 bytes. This is also the data cap available when SMS was created. 

SMS Mobile Smartphone Timeline

How it started

When Friedhelm Hillebrand was creating SMS back in 1985, 140 bytes of data is what he deemed to be the optimal combination of a data file small enough to send electronically, and large enough for any given person to say what they needed to say.

Quick recap

There's a much more complex way to explain how all this works, involving how the data for each character is coded and transferred between devices.

But let's suffice it to say that SMS stands for "Short Messaging Service," which is an electronic message consisting of 160 characters or less.

These 160 characters are equal to 140 bytes of electronic data, which in 1985 was considered the optimal electronic file size for sending real-time communications.

Related: 9 Powerful Ways to Grow Your Brand Through Small Business Texting