What’s the Difference Between SMS vs MMS?

What’s the Difference Between SMS vs MMS?

Updated April 16, 2024

You probably send text messages daily, but you might not be able to answer the question: “What is SMS?” In short, SMS is an abbreviation that stands for Short Message Service, which is another name for a text message.

Even if you do know what SMS is, you may still be confused when it comes to understanding the difference between SMS vs MMS. These two terms are used interchangeably but actually refer to different types of messaging. The simplest way to understand the difference is that SMS refers to text messages, while MMS refers to messages with a picture or video.

Understanding the breakdown of SMS vs MMS messages and their differences will give you more insight into how to best connect with your customers, as well as which mass text messaging service is best for your business.

What is SMS?

Let’s start with a simple question: what is SMS? And what is the difference between a text message and an SMS message? Well, an SMS is a text message. SMS was developed in the 1980s and is one of the oldest texting technologies. It’s also the most widely used, despite a growing number of alternate ways to communicate.

While you might refer to a variety of different message types as simply a “text” in your daily life, the difference is that an SMS message contains only text (no pictures or videos) and is limited to 160 characters. For example, technically iMessages aren’t text messages, even though most people usually refer to them as such.

Frequently Asked Questions About SMS Messages

  • What does SMS stand for? SMS stands for Short Message Service, which is more commonly referred to as a text message.
  • What happens if an SMS exceeds the 160-character limit? The SMS message will be broken up into several messages, depending on its length. In 2020, most carriers started to chain messages so that they arrive in order.
  • How popular is SMS? In the United States, there are over 6 billion SMS messages sent daily.
  • How is SMS different from iMessage or WhatsApp? Messaging applications like iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat are known as “Over The Top” (OTT) applications. You don’t need a cellular network to send these because they rely on the internet. In order to send these messages, the recipient has to have the same app downloaded on their phone. For example, all iPhones have iMessage installed and your message will default to an iMessage if your recipient is using an iPhone. If they aren’t, your iPhone will default to SMS, which appears as a green bubble on your iPhone as opposed to a blue bubble.
  • Will SMS ever be replaced? Experts predict that RCS messaging (Rich Communication Services) will one day replace SMS messaging as the new go-to protocol — but average screen time stats show that overall phone usage isn’t changing anytime soon.

What is MMS?

MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. You can think of it as an enhancement to the standard SMS message. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but the main difference between SMS and MMS is that you can send multimedia in your messages. This includes media such as videos, pictures, audio clips and GIFs, and more. Additionally, MMS allows for up to 1600 characters of text in your message — which is a considerable amount more than a standard SMS.

Frequently Asked Questions About MMS Messages

  • What file types can I send with MMS? The file types you can send with MMS include: GIF, PNG, JPG/JPEG, MP3, MP4, and GIF animated.
  • Can I send MMS messages in any country? Currently, MMS is supported by all numbers in the United States, but it’s less common in other countries. If you’re sending an MMS outside of the U.S., it’s best to use a link to your file.
  • Does it cost more to send an MMS? Yes, since MMS requires more work to encode and deliver a message, the associated cost is higher than SMS messages.

MMS vs SMS: A Side-By-Side Comparison

You’re probably beginning to understand what SMS is, especially since you likely send multiple SMS messages in your daily life. However, it might be easier to see what SMS is visually, since two pieces of similar content can look different when using SMS and MMS messaging as a strategy.

Even though the below image is based on an iPhone screen, when comparing SMS vs MMS, Android, iPhone, and other smartphones follow the same pattern.

Comparison of how SMS vs MMS messages look on iPhonesComparison of how SMS vs MMS messages look on iPhones


Pros and Cons of SMS vs MMS

While both SMS and MMS are excellent ways to engage your customers, there are advantages and disadvantages to each method of communication. In some cases, one may be better or more effective than another depending on the use case or your intended result.

Advantages to SMS

  • SMS messages are short and sweet. Because of the 160 character limit, they don’t require a lot of time or energy.
  • SMS messages are cheaper to send than MMS messages.
  • Most carriers in the U.S. offer plans with unlimited texting, so there is likely no cost to your subscribers.

Disadvantages to SMS

  • You can’t send videos, photos, or sometimes even emojis in a traditional SMS message. If you want to offer your customers something more attention-grabbing, MMS may be the way to go.
  • SMS has a character limit of 160 characters, which can be limiting if your use case requires you to send longer messages.

Advantages to MMS

  • MMS messages are typically more eye-catching, as people tend to gravitate towards messages in their inbox that include a picture or video.
  • If you need to send text blasts with large amounts of content in each message, you can do that by using MMS as, again, the character limit is 1600.

Disadvantages to MMS

  • MMS messages cost more to send. If you’re budget-conscious, you may want to limit how often you are sending MMS messages.
  • Not all people can receive MMS messages. While most people have smartphones these days, some may not have MMS enabled on their cellular plan.
  • If you want to send custom-designed photos or videos, you may need to hire someone to put them together for you, which is an additional cost. 

Cost Differences Between MMS vs SMS

MMS messages will always cost more, no matter what SMS marketing service you’re using. This is because it requires the carriers to send more data than a standard SMS message. While pricing can vary from service to service, MMS marketing will use two to three times the number of text messages that a single text would use. This will vary depending on the plan that you have with us.

For example, if you are on a plan that gives you 1,000 text messages per month and you have 200 people on your text messaging list, an SMS message to your entire list would use 200 of those 1,000 messages.

If you were to send an MMS message to that same list, it would use 400 to 600 messages, depending on the plan that you have.

You might ask yourself, “Is MMS really worth the additional cost?

Consider this…

MMS marketing campaigns, on average, boast 15% to 20% higher engagement levels than traditional SMS messages.Click To Tweet They are also almost 10 times more likely to be shared with friends or through other social media channels. At the end of the day, it still comes back to your use case and what makes sense on a case-by-case basis.

One other factor that will affect the cost of both SMS and MMS is whether or not you’re sending messages from a short code or standard 10-digit number. An SMS short code is a 5- to 6-digit phone number that is used for sending mass text messages. Short codes are the go-to option when looking to send volumes of texts greater than 500 in a single blast. Because they are built to handle high volumes, the cost for messaging is naturally higher. With that said, currently, most SMS marketing software services use short codes by default.

Should I Use SMS vs MMS?

Now that you’ve answered “What is SMS?” and “What is MMS?” it’s time to decide which type of message is best for you. Choosing between SMS vs MMS requires you to understand what your end users are more likely to engage with and what your use case is. Do you need to communicate a quick message and have people follow a link? If so, SMS may be the right choice. If you’re looking to really grab their attention, can afford the additional cost, and need to show something visually, MMS is the way to go.

Ultimately, what’s most important is measuring your results and making adjustments to fine-tune your strategy and get the best ROI possible. Most SlickText users will send a mix of SMS and MMS messages to balance their costs and engagement.

SMS Messaging Use Cases

Since SMS has a character limit, it’s best to use it for shorter alerts, time-sensitive details, or conversational marketing. Some SMS use cases include:

  • Order confirmations and shipping/tracking information
  • Business or product updates
  • Appointment reminders
  • Account information
  • Loyalty programs

MMS Messaging Use Cases

MMS messages are attention-grabbing — especially considering the higher engagement and sharing rates compared to SMS. You should use MMS for messages with high traffic potential or particularly important information.

Some MMS use cases include:

  • Mobile coupons and promo codes
  • Product or menu photos
  • Birthday messages
  • New sale/product announcements
  • Abandoned cart messages

Send SMS & MMS Messages with SlickText

SlickText is a trusted leader in the SMS marketing and MMS marketing space and services over 40,000 brands in North America. Whether you’re looking to use SMS or MMS for marketing or simple mass text message communications, we have a platform that is powerful, easy-to-use, and affordable.

If you’re exploring different messaging solutions and want to speak to a real person about your options, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team is highly trained on our platform, and we’d love to help out.