How SMS Works

SMS Criticism and Alternatives

Despite their popularity, short messaging services have received some criticism. Here are a few of the disadvantages of SMS:

  • You have to pay for it. Most wireless plans charge for a certain number of text messages a month. Some only charge for user-originated messages, while others charge for incoming messages as well. If you exceed your message allowance, you may be charged 10 cents per message, and those little charges can add up.
  • Speedy message delivery is not guaranteed. During periods of high traffic, it might be minutes or even hours before a message gets through.
  • It's strictly for sending text messages. SMS does not support sending pictures, video or music files.

Alternatives to SMS

Alternative messaging services allow for more elaborate types of messages. With EMS (Enhanced Messaging Service), you can send formatted text, sound effects, small pictures and icons. MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) allows you to send animations, audio and video files in addition to text. If your mobile phone is EMS- or MMS-enabled, you can use these standards just as you would SMS. However, the cost per message will be higher.

Another alternative to using SMS is using an instant messaging program, such as AOL IM, on your cell phone. This can be in the form of software that's pre-installed on your phone, or you can use WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) to access the Internet and sign into your IM account. WAP is a protocol that gives you small, simplified versions of web pages that are easily navigable on your mobile phone or PDA (check out How WAP Works for more information). You can use it to send instant messages or actual e-mails from your phone.

A common complaint about SMS is its inefficient delivery structure -- when the message center is backed up, messages take longer to reach their destination. To make message delivery faster, networks are using more new next-generation technologies such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).

To learn more about SMS and other forms of mobile communication, check out the links on the following page.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Barkhuus, Louise and Anna Vallgarda. "Saying it All in 160 Characters: Four Classes of SMS Conversations." IT University of Copenhagen, April 2004. /ITU-TR-2004-45.pdf
  • Burns, Enid. "Teens, College Students Are Most Active Cell Phone Users." Click Z Network, August 29, 2005.
  • Clements, Tom. "SMS - Short But Sweet."
  • Coll, Steve. "In the Gulf, Dissidence Goes Digital." Washington Post, March 29, 2005.
  • Dybwad, Barb. "Morse Code Trumps SMS in Head-to-Head Speed Texting Combat." Engadget, May 6, 2005.
  • Dybwad, Barb. "Only 25 Percent of Americans Using SMS." Engadget, March 21, 2005.
  • Gupta, Puneet. "Short Message Service: What, How and Where?"
  • "Lecturer May Sue After SMS Sacking." Independent Online, September 13, 2005.
  • "Linked By Their Phones, Chinese Take to the Streets.", April 25, 2005.
  • Reid, Donna and Fraser Reid. "Insights into the Social and Psychological Effects of SMS Text Messaging."
  • Trosby, Finn. "SMS, The Strange Duckling of GSM."