What is MMS Messaging? MMS vs SMS vs OTT Messaging Services

Kyle Kuczynski,
Business Messaging Expert
Mar 03, 2021

What is the Difference Between SMS and MMS? Everything You Need to Know About SMS, MMS, and OTT Messaging

Almost all of our communications are text-based. You’ve got email, SMS, MMS, RCS, iMessage, Google Messages, and OTTs like  WhatsApp, GroupMe, and Messenger. And some 77% of the United States population owns a smartphone.

There’s debate over which messaging tool is best. But your options are nearly endless when it comes to sending messages.

So…

What are the differences between all of these text-based, messaging tools?

Well, we’re here to make sense of all your options and answer:

  • What is SMS?
  • What is MMS?
  • What is the difference between SMS and MMS?
  • What does OTT mean?
  • What is iMessage?
  • What is the difference between iMessage and text messages and OTT applications?
  • WhatsApp vs texting
  • WhatsApp vs iMessage

We’ll start with definitions. Then we’ll explain what makes each messaging technology unique and help you make sense of all your options.

Read on for more.

What is SMS? What Does SMS Mean?

SMS stands for Short Messaging Service. It’s been around since the 1980’s, making it one of the oldest messaging technologies. People often refer to SMS as text messaging or texting. All SMS text messages are text-only. They travel across standard wireless carrier networks and get assembled as chunks of 160 characters.

Note: Because it’s strictly text, SMS also works for translating text-to-voice for text-enabled landlines.

What is MMS? What Does MMS Mean?

MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. MMS is the standard way to send pictures, audio, video and other media files to and from mobile phones across cellular networks. Additionally, MMS means picture message, multimedia message and PXT. MMS allows you to send images and up to 1,600 character messages.

What is the Difference Between SMS and MMS?

SMS and MMS both mean text messaging. SMS and MMS messages both get sent over the standard wireless cellular networks. They both require a text messaging plan from your wireless carrier and almost all mobile devices support both SMS and MMS.

But...

The difference between SMS and MMS is that SMS is text-only. MMS are pictures, video, media, and text. It’s all about the type of content you can send. Because of the increased character length, MMS messages also tend to cost more than SMS messages.

SMS vs MMS:

  • SMS limits characters to 160 per message
  • MMS limits characters to 1,600 per message (text only)
  • SMS only supports text
  • MMS supports text and media
  • MMS costs more than SMS

SMS Messaging vs MMS Messaging

SMS
(Short Messaging Service)
MMS
(Multimedia Messaging Service)
Image support n/a Appears directly in message stream
Max character limit
(text only)
160 characters 1,600 characters
Max character limit
(text + image)
n/a 1,000 characters
Max file size limit n/a 300-500 KB

SMS vs MMS - Character and Data Limits

MMS messages have much higher character limits compared to SMS. They also get sent and reassembled more reliably as one single message compared to SMS.

Every SMS message is 160 characters long. So when you send a message that’s 320 characters long, it’s actually two messages. The carrier just stitches them together at the time of delivery.

With MMS you’re sending more bits and bytes. This means much higher character limits and cleaner, single-block messages.

The only real limitation to MMS is file size. The maximum file size you can send depends on the wireless carrier or messaging provider and the device receiving the message. 300-500 KB is often the largest file-size limit for MMS messages.

SMS vs MMS - Picture Messaging and Rich Media

The biggest advantage with MMS is being able to share rich media. Audio files, gifs, and short video clips all get received inside of the recipient's message stream.

You can’t do this with SMS.

Instead, you have to host that piece of media somewhere else. Either on the internet or some server and then link to it through a URL in a text message.

This may not necessarily be a bad thing depending on your needs. Are you sharing a link to a website or document? Or maybe sending links to leave Google Reviews or sending a poll or survey out via text? Then SMS might be best.

SMS vs MMS - Costs and Pricing

MMS messages will always cost a bit more than SMS messages. This is because you’re sending and receiving more data over the carrier networks.

Your costs will also vary depending on your provider and text message plan. MMS messages cost 3 messages by default with MessageDesk's business text messaging pricing. Whereas SMS messages only cost 1 message per every 160 characters.

SMS vs. MMS Which One’s Best?

SMS and MMS are both central to a conversational messaging strategy. You’ll want to include both.

But...

It’s always best to consider your goals and proper texting etiquette when crafting a text message campaign. Your audience and messaging should always drive what type of content you send.

So it’s really about understanding what kind of message your contacts and customers are more likely to engage with.

Is your message quick and informational or transactional with a link to a webpage? Then an SMS message is a more efficient and economic solution.

Are you trying to grab your audience’s attention with some kind of visual product or service offering? Then MMS is the bolder way to go.

When to Send SMS Text Messages

SMS text messages work best for shorter conversational and transactional messages vs promotional messages. They work well for communicating:

SMS messages are also great for initiating text-to-join, keyword-based, autoresponder campaigns. You can get a good amount of engagement and sign-ups but typically at a lower cost.

When to Send MMS Text Messages

Visuals are your most important consideration for MMS messaging. Are you promoting or selling a visual product or service? Then you could benefit more from sending photos, .gifs, and videos.

MMS is also great if you’re already executing SMS marketing campaigns. They can also work well if you’re sending texts as a salesperson or sales team.

Let’s say you’re selling landscaping services.

With MMS you can send and receive picture messages for more quotes and estimates. You could ask your prospective or existing customer to text a photo of their yard. This makes it easier to quote the job, create an estimate and close the deal.

Consider sending MMS messages when you want to:

  • Visually promote your product or service or send a coupon
  • Send and receive photos for estimates and quotes
  • Get a photo of an important document from a client
  • Invite your subscribers to a live event
  • Send a happy birthday or anniversary message

What is OTT? What Does OTT Mean?

We’ve established what SMS and MMS are and how they’re different. But there are other forms of text-based messaging services out there called OTTs.

OTT stands for over-the-top messaging. OTT means sending and receiving content (data) over the internet, not standard carrier messaging networks. Over-the-top means the content provider or application is going “over the top” of existing internet services to deliver your message or content.

OTT messaging services typically offer instant messaging and online chat services. They’re an alternative to carrier network SMS and MMS text messaging. WhatsApp is an example of an OTT. It replaces text messaging on your smartphone with its own app and its own messaging service.

sms-vs-mms-vs-ott-2000x1000.jpeg

How is SMS Different from iMessage or WhatsApp?

Applications like iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat (and even streaming services) are all considered “over the top'' OTT services.

They don’t send messages or data over the existing cellular networks. They rely on the internet or a wi-fi connection. There’s no phone number involved when sending messages.

You also get richer features. Read receipts, typing indicators and higher image file size limit all come with these apps. This is because all messaging takes place on the application’s own network.

But the recipient has to have the same app downloaded on their phone to send and receive these messages. This is the biggest drawback with sending and receiving OTT content. OTT messaging isn’t as universal as SMS or MMS messaging.

iMessage vs Texting

Texting and iMessages are both common ways to send messages from iPhones, tablets, and other devices. Text messages require a cell phone plan, but iMessages use data and Wi-Fi. iMessage is also an OTT specific to iOS Apple devices. You can’t send an iMessage to a non-iPhone/iOS recipient. Instead, your message gets sent as an SMS or MMS text message.

iMessages also look different from regular texts. All iMessages will appear blue in your Messages App, while all SMS and MMS text messages will appear as green.

What Comes After SMS and MMS? Answer: RCS

RCS stands for Rich Communication Services. RCS is the new standard of messaging that will replace SMS and MMS as the default for all messaging.

RCS makes it fast and easy to send more information in a message. This means richer text features, high-resolution images and videos, and much more.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

Ready to start sending MMS messages? MessageDesk is here to help with smarter, simpler business text messaging for keeping connected.

Visit our learning center for information on how to get started with MessageDesk. You’ll find a quick start guide to texting, a features overview, and an explanation of what MessageDesk is.

You’ll also want to check out our list of free SMS text message templates. Just copy and paste to start texting.