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SMS vs. MMS: What's the difference?

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Drive growth and reduce costs with omnichannel business messaging

The average person now spends 4.5 hours each day on their mobile device. As we spend more time on our devices, much of that time is spent texting. According to Statista, in 2021, over 2 trillion SMS and MMS messages were sent in the United States alone. Even while inactive, our phone is often within reach. With time on mobile increasing, many businesses have turned to mobile messaging like SMS and MMS to quickly and effectively engage customers. The terms SMS and MMS have often been used interchangeably, but they are in fact two different types of business messaging.

SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Message Service) both allow you to send text messages to customers directly, but they differ greatly in their use cases, capabilities, and costs. So, which is the right business messaging tool for your business?

Read on to learn the state of modern mobile messaging for business and which type of texting can help you better communicate with and convert customers. In this blog, we’ll cover:

  • What is SMS? 

  • What is MMS messaging?

  • SMS vs. MMS

  • SMS vs. text

  • Statistics on SMS performance

  • When to use SMS vs. MMS

Let’s dive in!

What is SMS?

An SMS (Short Message Service) is a standardized communication protocol that allows the exchange of short text messages between mobile devices. SMS is widely used for personal and business communications. SMS allows users to send and receive text-only messages of up to 160 characters with anyone on a cellular network. Because SMS operates over cellular networks, it ensures broad accessibility and reliability. The value of SMS is its simplicity and reliability. SMS is universally supported by every mobile device and cellular network in the world. To send a text, all you need is a cellular plan and someone’s phone number.

SMS does not support multimedia content such as images and videos. Though you can’t directly add media to an SMS, you can include links to external media. Businesses use SMS to send short text-based communications, such as alerts, notifications, and reminders, to customers.

SMS, a messaging protocol, was created in 1984 by two German engineers, Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. It was standardized into the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) Protocol in 1985, then codified into the Short Message Peer-to-Peer Signaling (SMPP) Protocol as the default way to send a text message. In 1992, Vodafone in the UK sent the first-ever retail SMS. As of 2021, over 21 trillion SMS messages were sent globally.

Benefits of SMS for businesses

1. Effectiveness

  • 53% of marketers say SMS offers higher click-through rates than other channels (eMarketer)

  • 86% of businesses say that SMS provides a higher rate of engagement than other channels (SmallBizTrends)

  • 93% of consumers say that SMS is a “trusted communications environment” (CTIA, 2019 Mobile Usage Report: How Consumers Are Really Texting)

2. Popularity

  • 54% of consumers say they want to receive marketing promotions via SMS (SmallBizTrends)

  • 66% of consumers say they use SMS to engage with businesses (eMarketer)

  • 93% of global customers have signed up for an SMS program with a business (Attentive)

3. High open rates and immediate delivery: SMS messages boast an exceptionally high open rate of 98%. This means that nearly all recipients open the messages, increasing the likelihood that the information reaches its intended audience promptly and effectively. Moreover, SMS messages are delivered almost instantaneously, making them ideal for time-sensitive communications such as reminders or urgent updates. This also means that SMS messages receive quick responses, often within minutes of being read.

4. Wide reach: SMS can reach a broad audience, including individuals without smartphones or internet access. SMS operates over established cellular networks, ensuring consistent and reliable message delivery. This ensures inclusivity, allowing businesses to communicate with a diverse customer base regardless of their technological capabilities. Moreover, recipients can read and respond to SMS messages at their convenience, making it a flexible and user-friendly communication channel.

5. Personalization: Businesses can tailor SMS messages to individual customers based on their preferences, behavior, or past interactions. Personalized messages enhance the customer experience by making communications more relevant and engaging.

6. Trackability: SMS campaigns, especially if sent via an SMS API, offer trackable metrics such as delivery rates, open rates, and response rates. These metrics provide valuable insights into customer engagement and campaign effectiveness, helping businesses refine their strategies.

7. Integration: SMS can be easily integrated with other marketing channels and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. This integration enhances the overall marketing strategy by creating a seamless and cohesive customer communication experience.

Disadvantages of SMS for businesses

1. Character limit: SMS messages are limited to 160 characters, which restricts the amount of information that can be conveyed in a single message.

2. Lack of multimedia support: SMS does not support multimedia content such as images, videos, or audio files, limiting its use to text-only communication.

3. Limited features: SMS lacks advanced features such as encryption, group messaging, and file sharing, which are common in modern messaging apps.

4. No read receipts: Standard SMS does not provide read receipts, making it difficult to know if the recipient has read the message.

What is MMS messaging?

An MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) is a communication protocol that enables the transmission of multimedia content, such as images, audio, video, and text, between mobile devices. Unlike SMS, which is limited to text, MMS supports a broader range of media types and allows for longer messages. Built upon the SMS protocol, MMS operates over cellular networks, leveraging data services to deliver rich media content. MMS supports up to 1,600 characters of text.

The MMS standard was ratified into the GSM Protocol in 1999. Unlike SMS, which uses a store-and-forward mechanism over cellular networks, MMS messages are typically transmitted via mobile data networks of cellular providers.

So, what is MMS messaging for businesses? For businesses, MMS messaging is a way to enhance the SMS experience with rich media, location sharing, and more words, helping to increase engagement and returns, but at a higher price per message.

Advantages of MMS for businesses

1. Multimedia content: MMS supports the transmission of longer messages that don't have the 160-character limit. MMS supports multimedia files, including images, videos, and audio, enhancing the communication experience. The ability to combine text with multimedia elements makes MMS suitable for marketing, announcements, and sharing detailed information.

2. Enhanced engagement: Multimedia content tends to be more engaging and can convey messages more effectively than plain text.

3. Higher attention rates: Multimedia messages are more likely to capture the recipient's attention compared to plain text messages, increasing the likelihood of the message being noticed and remembered.

Disadvantages of MMS for businesses

1. Higher costs: Sending MMS messages is generally more expensive than sending SMS messaging due to the larger data size and multimedia content.

2. Limited file size: Depending on the service provider, MMS messages often have a maximum file size limit, which can restrict the quality and length of the multimedia content that can be sent. Due to the larger size of multimedia files, MMS messages may take longer to send and receive compared to SMS.

3. Variable quality: The quality of multimedia content can be affected by compression and network conditions, resulting in degraded images or videos.

SMS vs. MMS: What are the key differences?

What’s the difference between SMS vs. MMS? SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) are both messaging technologies used in mobile communication, but they have distinct differences. SMS is limited to text messages with a maximum length of 160 characters and does not support multimedia content. In contrast, MMS extends the capabilities of SMS by allowing users to send 1,600 characters and multimedia files, such as images, videos, and audio, along with text messages. MMS messages can include rich media content and typically have a larger size limit, often up to several megabytes, depending on your service provider. These differences make SMS more suitable for simple, text-based communication, while MMS is used for more complex messages that require multimedia elements, such as promotional messages and alerts. 

An image depicting the visual differences between SMS vs. MMS

The table below summarizes the differences between SMS vs. MMS.



Stands for

Short Messaging Service

Multimedia Messaging Service


Appear as links

Appear directly in the message

Maximum length

160 characters

1,600 characters

File size


300kb-5MB (provider depending)

Price to send

$.009085 per (cheaper for bulk)

3x SMS price per (cheaper for bulk)

User experience

Part of the typical user experience

Enhances user experience with multimedia

Device dependencies

None. The most basic cell phone is built SMS-ready

MMS must be enabled on mobile devices to send/receive

Now let’s look at SMS vs. MMS in more detail.

Content to send in an SMS vs. MMS

SMS: SMS (Short Message Service) is restricted to text-only messages with a character limit of 160 characters per message. This makes it suitable for brief and straightforward communications such as appointment reminders, verification codes, and quick updates.

MMS: MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) supports a variety of multimedia content, including images, audio, video, and longer text messages. This allows for richer and more engaging communications, such as sending promotional images, video tutorials, or detailed product descriptions.

Message size of SMS vs. MMS

SMS: The small data size of SMS messages (160 characters) ensures quick transmission and delivery, but limits the amount of information that can be conveyed in a single message. For longer messages, multiple SMS (concatenated SMS) are sent, which may increase costs.

MMS: MMS messages can carry much larger data payloads, enabling the inclusion of rich media files. This allows businesses to share visually compelling content, such as high-resolution images, audio clips, and video messages, enhancing the overall message impact.

Cost of sending an SMS vs. MMS

SMS: Generally, SMS messages are cheaper to send and receive than MMS, making them a cost-effective option for businesses needing to communicate frequently with customers. The low cost per message is ideal for high-volume messaging campaigns, like alerts and notifications.

MMS: Depending on your cellular provider, MMS messages can cost three times more to send than SMS messages. The higher costs are justified by the enhanced capability to send multimedia content, which can be more effective in capturing the audience's attention and conveying complex messages. In North America, cell providers offer unlimited texting plans that allow users to send and receive MMS (and SMS) messages free of charge. However, cell carriers outside of North America may not offer unlimited texting and charge extra for MMS data. As a result, free-to-use OTT apps like WhatsApp and WeChat have largely replaced MMS and SMS in many global regions.

If you are on a mass texting plan that offers 500 text messages per month, and you have 100 people on your SMS list, an SMS message to all 100 people would use 100/500 of those text messages. An MMS, on the other hand, might use 200-300 of those text messages, depending on your plan. Note that the exact costs will vary depending on the country in which you are located and your specific service provider. Are the higher costs of MMS messaging worth it? Data would suggest that they are - 56% of users indicate that they will engage with a brand if the brand's message includes GIFs, pictures, or emojis. 

Network requirements of SMS vs. MMS

SMS: SMS operates over the cellular network's control channel, ensuring message delivery even in areas with limited data coverage. This reliability makes SMS an excellent choice for critical communications in various geographic locations.

MMS: MMS requires a data connection (cellular data or Wi-Fi) to send and receive multimedia content. This dependency on data networks can limit accessibility in areas with poor data coverage.

Engagement potential of SMS vs. MMS

SMS: SMS messages have high open and response rates due to their concise nature and immediacy. However, the lack of visual elements limits the potential for engaging visuals, making SMS more suitable for straightforward and direct communication.

MMS: MMS offers higher engagement potential through the use of images, videos, and audio, making it more effective for marketing and brand communication. The rich media content in MMS can capture attention more effectively, enhancing the impact of promotional campaigns and customer interactions.

When to send SMS vs. MMS messages

If you’re wondering, “Should I use SMS or MMS?”, this section explains the use cases for SMS and MMS. Given their distinct uses, many businesses opt for a mix of SMS and MMS for their mobile marketing and communications.

For over 20 years, businesses have relied on SMS and MMS as channels to quickly and reliably connect with users, but in different ways. SMS is used like a post-it note, and MMS is more like a postcard.

The table below summarizes when you should send SMS vs. MMS messages.



Quick, concise bits of information, such as alerts

Grab attention with visual content and drive engagement

Quick, cost-effective communication

Longer, more resource-intensive communication

Example: Order tracking updates

Example: Marketing campaign

When to use SMS messages

SMS is ideal for sending quick, concise bits of information such as alerts, notifications, and updates.

Say you’re an eCommerce business that wants to send an SMS notification to customers about their order shipping. At 160 characters max, an effective SMS will be short, sweet, and contain a link to the order tracking page.

A screenshot depicting an SMS for ecommerce
SMS for ecommerce

When to use MMS messages

MMS is best if you want to grab attention with visual content and drive engagement, such as for marketing campaigns.

For example, say your ecommerce brand is promoting its new spring collection. With MMS messaging, you can enhance your messaging experience with custom, branded content such as images, videos, and GIFs that showcase your products. Moreover, you’ve got up to 1,600 characters to drive action!

An image depicting MMS for ecommerce
MMS for ecommerce

Business use cases for SMS notifications

SMS lets you quickly and reliably deliver essential information with high visibility and engagement. Here are some ways businesses can use SMS notifications.

  • Appointment reminders and confirmations

  • Order status updates and confirmations

  • Shipping and tracking information

  • Loyalty program updates

  • Announcements and policy changes

  • Emergency alerts

  • Account updates, security resets

  • Two-factor authentication (2FA)

  • Polls and surveys

  • Promotional offers and marketing campaigns

  • Text-to-join campaigns

  • Internal communications

Business use cases for MMS messaging

When engagement and conversions matter, as with marketing campaigns or high-value content, MMS is the way to go. Here are some ways businesses can leverage MMS messaging.

  • Promotional offers, discounts, and coupons

  • Branding and awareness campaigns

  • Abandoned cart reminders

  • Restock notifications

  • Event promotions and invites

  • Customer support with shared assets

  • Feedback collection and surveys

  • Training and education multimedia content

  • Birthday messages for customer loyalty programs

SMS as part of omnichannel messaging

An omnichannel messaging strategy allows businesses to send information, updates, and alerts via customers’ preferred channels. A study found that businesses with an omnichannel messaging experience achieve a 91% higher customer retention rate compared to businesses without an omnichannel strategy. Omnichannel marketing has a 250% higher purchase rate compared to campaigns using only a single channel.

As we have seen, businesses use SMS notifications to engage users at key steps in the customer journey with concise, effective mobile messages. To enhance communications and drive engagement, your business should consider adding SMS capabilities as part of an omnichannel messaging strategy. As a globally trusted channel, SMS adds more reach, exceptional open rates, and high levels of engagement to a mobile app experience, without the risks of OTT messaging.

To add SMS as a preferred channel to your omnichannel messaging strategy, consider using Sendbird’s SMS API. With a reliable and secure SMS API, you can reach a broader audience, ensure immediate delivery, and enhance reach to audiences who may not have downloaded your app. Sendbird’s SMS solution is perfect for developers and for those who don’t code; through the Sendbird dashboard, all teams can quickly send tailored SMS messages via a campaign template builder and analyze performance through analytics.

Sending an SMS as part of Business Messaging
Sending an SMS as part of Business Messaging

In the Sendbird analytics dashboard, you can launch and monitor various personalized omnichannel SMS campaigns in one place.

Sending an SMS notification through the campaign builder in the Sendbird dashboard
Sending an SMS notification through the campaign builder in the Sendbird dashboard

After you start sending SMS campaigns, you’ll be able to track metrics, user insights, and KPIs. Then, you can optimize campaigns with clear data and insights.

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Drive growth and reduce costs with omnichannel business messaging

Take your SMS and MMS messaging strategy to the next level with Sendbird Business Messaging

With their high delivery and open rates, SMS notifications are a proven channel on which to send important business messages. If you want to take business messaging a step further and be where your customers are, consider leveraging an omnichannel messaging strategy. With omnichannel messaging, you can streamline customer messaging on mobile through multiple channels like in-app notifications, push notifications, and WhatsApp, for all teams involved.

It’s important to remember that channel sequencing is an important part of your overall omnichannel messaging strategy. Channel sequencing allows businesses to effectively leverage the other channels mentioned above, such as in-app notifications and WhatsApp, to reach customers through their preferred channels.

Channel sequencing with Sendbird Business Messaging
Channel sequencing with Sendbird Business Messaging

To help you easily integrate SMS into your omnichannel messaging experience, Sendbird offers an SMS API. Built to deliver reliable, secure, and scalable SMS campaigns, our developer-friendly SMS API and SDKs (Software Development Kits) ensure the best SMS experience for your customers. Companies like Miso have used Business Messaging, including our SMS API, to reduce costs by 43%. 

Want to incorporate SMS as part of your omnichannel messaging strategy? Start a free trial or contact us to learn more!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Does SMS support emojis and other characters?
2. SMS vs. text: What’s the difference?
3. Why the 160-character limit?
4. What if my SMS message is longer than 160 characters?
5. What is the character limit for MMS messaging?
6. Does it cost more to send an MMS?
7. Are MMS messages always delivered?
8. What multimedia can I send with MMS?
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