SMS vs. MMS: What's the Difference?

Mike Arsenault
December 20, 2022
5
minute read

Considering launching a text marketing program? This post is for you.

This short guide breaks down the differences between SMS and MMS, the two message types you’ll use to communicate with customers.

In this post, you’ll learn

  • The pro and cons of both SMS and MMS (and when to use them)
  • The cost breakdown of each message type
  • The important differences to be aware of
  • Lots more

If you’re ready to generate a profitable return on investment with text message marketing, this post will get you off on the right foot.

Let’s get into it.

What is SMS?

SMS is:

  • A type of text messaging
  • Short & sweet. SMS stands for Short Message Service and messages are limited to 160 characters.
  • Delivered as two or more separate messages when the limit is exceeded
  • Compatible with all cell phone service providers
  • Unable to send multimedia content

Pros and Cons of SMS

Pros of SMS:

  • It’s a quick, personal way to communicate
  • It’s compatible with all cell phone services
  • Limited characters keep messages succinct
  • It creates an opportunity to have a two-way dialog with customers
  • It’s high-urgency, and in some cases, customers are more likely to engage with SMS messages vs. email

Cons of SMS:

  • It’s limited to 160 characters
  • It can’t send multimedia content
  • It’s a lot more expensive than email

What is MMS?

MMS is:

  • A type of text messaging 
  • Capable of transmitting multimedia content (MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service)
  • Limited to 1,600 characters
  • Compatible with most cell phone service providers

Pros and Cons of MMS

Pros of MMS:

  • Can send multimedia messages such as images, GIFs, audio, emojis, and videos
  • Capable of carrying longer text messages
  • Supports response tracking and analysis

Cons of MMS:

  • Not all cell phone services support MMS messages
  • MMS messages are much more expensive than MMS
  • It may take longer to deliver MMS messages than SMS
GUIDE
SMS Marketing: The Ultimate Guide for Ecommerce
View Guide

SMS vs. MMS: The Key Differences

The differences between SMS and MMS span five important categories: Message length allowances, multimedia support, message cost, message throughput, and carrier fees.

SMS has ubiquitous carrier support. Customers can receive your messages on any mobile device. MMS is also widely supported, but customers who don't have smartphones may not be able to see MMS messages if their plan doesn’t allow it.

The message protocol you choose will depend mainly on the experience you’re trying to create for customers.

Ideally, the SMS marketing vendor you choose will enable you to use both message types when communicating with customers.

Message Length Limitations

SMS messages can be up to 160 characters in length. In comparison, MMS allows for messages of up to 1,600 characters and multimedia content.

Multimedia Support

MMS allows multimedia content such as vCard files (for sharing contact info), emojis, static images, animated GIFs, videos, and audio files. More specifically, MMS supports GIF, PNG, JPG/JPEG, MP4, and VCF.

SMS supports text-only messages and basic hyperlinks. With SMS links, it’s critical to shorten links into something recognizable for recipients using a link-shortening service like bit.ly (for example). Long tracking links look suspicious when viewed on a mobile device, so keep it short. Ideally, you’ll include your brand name in the tracking link as well.

Message Cost

MMS messages cost more to send than SMS messages. The cost of an MMS message depends on the messaging vendor but is usually around $0.30 per message. Both message types incur carrier fees if sent from a toll-free number.

SMS messages are typically around $0.01 per message, depending on your SMS marketing platform.

Since MMS messages are considerably more expensive than SMS, it’s important to verify that they are creating incremental improvement in performance versus sending simple SMS messages. To measure incrementality, run A/B tests with some customers who receive SMS and whether others receive MMS to compare how they interact.

Throughput Rate

SMS messages are usually sent within seconds. MMS messages, on the other hand, can take up to a few minutes to arrive. The time it takes to send an MMS message depends on your SMS provider and the carrier service on the customer’s end.

SMS and MMS Carrier Fees

Wireless carriers charge an additional fee for messages sent from toll-free numbers. Additional carrier fees vary by telecom provider, but here’s the latest carrier fee data from the five dominant carriers in the U.S.:

Carrier SMS MMS
Verizon $0.0030 $0.005
T-Mobile/MetroPCS $0.0030 $0.01
AT&T $0.0025 $0.003
Sprint $0.0030 $0.01
U.S. Cellular $0.0025 $0.005

Conclusion

When choosing between SMS and MMS, the best choice for your text message marketing program will depend on the experience you want to create for your subscribers, your budget, and the return on investment you can achieve.

To summarize: 

  • Message Length: For short, text-only messages, SMS is the way to go. For messages longer than 160 characters, go with MMS.

  • Multimedia: If you’re trying to create more engaging experiences with emojis, animated GIFs, or static images, MMS is your best option.

  • Message Cost: MMS messages are much more expensive than SMS messages. Monitor the engagement rates of your messages to determine if the additional cost creates a performance lift. If not, use SMS.

  • Message Throughput: SMS messages send instantly, whereas MMS messages can take longer to reach customers. 

  • Carrier Fees: Carrier fees are unavoidable with both SMS and MMS, so choose an SMS marketing platform that passes those fees on without any additional markup.
Struggling with your SMS marketing?
Get Help

Frequently Asked Questions

How is SMS different from iMessage?

SMS stands for Short Message Service and is the most common type of text messaging. It is cellular-based and uses cell phone networks to send and receive SMS messages. On the other hand, iMessage is an instant messaging platform exclusive to Apple users. It utilizes Wi-Fi or cellular data to send and receive messages. Messages sent through iMessage are encrypted and can include multimedia content, such as photos and videos.

How is SMS different from WhatsApp?

SMS is cellular-based and uses cell phone networks to send and receive SMS messages. WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging app that uses the internet to send and receive messages. WhatsApp supports messages, images, videos, and audio messages. WhatsApp is more widely used than SMS since it is compatible with multiple platforms (Android, iOS, Windows, etc.). Given that it operates over the internet, WhatsApp messages are delivered faster and are cheaper than SMS messages.

Does Android use MMS or SMS?

Android phones use both SMS and MMS messages. SMS is used for text-only messages, while MMS sends multimedia content like images, videos, and audio clips.

Does it cost more to send an MMS?

Yes, MMS messages usually cost more to send than SMS messages. The cost of an MMS message depends on the messaging vendor but is usually around $0.30 per message. Both message types incur carrier fees if sent from a toll-free number.

AUTHOR

Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

Mike is a martech veteran and the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing automation platform built for ecommerce. For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth.