Short Message Service (SMS) is a service available on most digital mobile phones that permits the sending of short messages (also known as text messages, or more colloquially SMSes, texts or even txts) between mobile phones, other handheld devices and even landline telephones. Other uses of text messaging can be for ordering ringtones, wallpapers and entering competitions.

Premium content

SMS is widely used for delivering premium content such as news alerts, financial information, logos and ringtones. Such messages are also known as premium-rated short messages (PSMS). The subscribers are charged extra for receiving this premium content, and the amount is typically split with the mobile network operator and the content provider (VASP) dividing the income either through revenue share or a fixed transport fee.

Premium short messages are also increasingly being used for "real-world" services. For example, some vending machines now allow payment by sending a premium-rated short message, so that the cost of the item bought is added to the user's phone bill.

A new type of 'free premium' or 'hybrid premium' content has emerged with the launch of text-service websites. These sites allow registered users to receive free text messages when items they are interested go on sale, or when new items are introduced.

Some companies like WordTel Communication share their gateway among professionals to communicate with that via an Application Programming Interface (API) in order to have their software broadcast messages. The connection between their software and the gateway is established through Internet line.


Short message services are developing very rapidly throughout the world. By mid-2004 texts were being sent at a rate of 500 billion messages per annum. At an average cost of USD 0.10 per message, this generates revenues in excess of 50 billion for mobile telephone operators and represents close to 100 text messages for every person in the world. Growth has been rapid; in 2001, 250 billion short messages were sent, in 2000 just 17 billion. SMS is particularly popular in Europe, Asia (excluding Japan; see below) and Australia. Popularity has grown to a sufficient extent that the term texting (used as a verb meaning the act of mobile phone users sending short messages back and forth) has entered the common lexicon. In China, SMS is very popular, and has brought service providers significant profit (18 billion short messages were sent in 2001).

Short messages are particularly popular amongst young urbanites. In many markets, the service is comparatively cheap. For example, in Australia a message typically costs between AUD 0.20 and AUD 0.25 to send, compared to a voice call, which costs anywhere between AUD 0.40 and AUD 2.00 per minute. Despite the low cost to the consumer, the service is enormously profitable to the service providers. At a typical length of only 190 bytes (incl. protocol overhead), more than 350 of these messages per minute can be transmitted at the same datarate as a usual voice call (9 kbit/s).

The most frequent SMS'ers are found in south-east Asia. In Singapore, hundreds of messages can be sent per month for free, after which messages cost between SGD 0.05 and SGD 0.07 each to send. The same pricing format is followed in the Philippines where the average user sent 2,300 messages in 2003, making it the world's most avid SMS nation. SMS is a part in almost all marketing campaigns, advocacy, and entertainment. In fact, SMS is so inexpensive (messages cost PHP 1.00 (about USD 0.02) to send), influential, powerful, and addictive for Filipinos that several local dotcoms like Chikka Messenger, GoFISH Mobile, and Bidshot now fully utilise SMS for their services.

Europe follows next behind Asia in terms of the popularity of SMSing. In 2003, an average of 16 billion messages were sent each month. Users in Spain sent a little more than fifty messages per month on average in 2003. In Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom the figure was around 35–40 SMSs per month. In each of these countries the cost of sending an SMS varies from as little as £0.03–£0.18 depending on the payment plan. Curiously France has not taken to SMSing in the same way, sending just under 20 messages on average per user per month. France has the same GSM technology as other European countries so the uptake is not hampered by technical restrictions. Part of the reason for the lack of uptake may be due higher prices due to weak competition in the mobile market—the key player Orange is owned by subsidised France Télécom. However some telecom analysts suggest that this factor has dissipated in recent years and say that the reason may be cultural—text messaging is associated with a fast pace of life and France is more reluctant than others to dispense with its traditions.

In the US, however, the appeal of SMS is even more limited. Although an SMS usually costs only $0.05 (many providers also offer monthly allotments), only 13 messages were sent by the average user in 2003. The reasons for this are varied—many users have unlimited "mobile-to-mobile" minutes, high monthly minute allotments, or unlimited service. Moreover, push to talk services offer the instant connectivity of SMS and are typically unlimited. Furthermore, the integration between competing providers and technologies necessary for cross-network text messaging has only been available recently. However the recent addition of AT&T-powered SMS voting on the television program American Idol has introduced many Americans to SMS, and usage is on the rise. In Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest organised the first pan-European SMS-voting in 2002, as a part of the voting system (there was also a voting over the classical phone lines). In 2005, the Eurovision Song Contest organised the biggest televoting ever (with SMS and phone voting).

In addition to SMS voting, a different phenomenon has risen in more mobile-phone-saturated countries. In Finland some TV channels began "SMS Chat", which involved sending short messages to a phone number, and the messages would be shown on TV a while later. Chats are always moderated, which prevents sending harmful material to the channel. The craze soon became popular and evolved into games, first slow-paced quiz and strategy games. After a while, faster paced games were designed for television and SMS control. Games tend to involve registering one's nickname, and after that sending short messages for controlling a character on screen. Messages usually cost 0.05 to 0.86 euros apiece, and games can require the player to send dozens of messages. In December 2003 Finnish TV-channel MTV3 put a Father Christmas character on air reading aloud messages sent in by viewers. Some customers were later accused of "hacking" after they discovered a way to control Santa's speech synthesiser. More recent late-night attractions on the same channel include "Beach Volley", in which the bikini-clad female hostess blocks balls "shot" by short message. On March 12 2004, the first entirely "interactive" TV-channel "VIISI" began operation in Finland. That did not last long though, as SBS Finland Oy took over the channel and turned it into a music channel named "The Voice" in November 2004.

Text messaging is also popular in Japan. However, it is known by different names depending on the mobile service. With NTT DoCoMo, it is known as "i-mode mail." With AU, it is known as "C-Mail." Mobile e-mail is usually the norm when sending messages between phones with different services, but between phones using the same service, text messaging is more prevalent.

A few widely publicised speed contests have been held between expert Morse code operators and expert SMS users (see references). Morse code has consistently won the contests, leading to speculation that mobile phone manufacturers may eventually build a Morse code interface into mobile phones. The interface would automatically translate the Morse code input into text so that it could be sent to any SMS-capable mobile phone so therefore the receiver of the message need not know Morse code to read it. Other speculated applications include taking an existing assistive application of Morse code and using the vibrating alert feature on the mobile lphone to translate short messages to Morse code for silent, hands-free "reading" of the incoming messages. Several mobile phones already have informative audible Morse code ring tones and alert messages, for example: many Nokia mobile phones have an option to beep "S M S" in Morse code when it receives a short message. There are third-party applications already available for some mobile phones that allow Morse input for short messages (see references).

An increasing trend towards spamming mobile phone users through SMS has prompted cellular service carriers to take steps against the practice, before it becomes a widespread problem. No major spamming incidents involving SMS have been reported as of October 2003, but the existence of mobile-phone spam has already been noted by industry watchdogs, including Consumer Reports magazine.

Text speak

Because of the limited message lengths and tiny user interface of mobile phones, SMS users commonly make extensive use of abbreviations, particularly the use of numbers for words (for example, "4" in place of the word "for"), the omission of vowels, as in the phrase "txt msg", or the replacement of spaces with capitalization, such as "ThisIsVeryCool". To avoid the even more limited message lengths allowed when using Cyrillic or Greek letters, some Eastern Europeans use the Latin alphabet for their own language.

Historically, this language developed out of shorthand used in chatrooms on the Internet, where users would abbreviate some words to allow a response to be typed more quickly. However, this became much more pronounced in SMS, where mobile phone users don't generally have access to a QWERTY keyboard as chatroom users did, and more effort is required to type each character.

In Mandarin Chinese, numbers that sound similar to words are used in place of those words. For example, the numbers 520 in Chinese ("wu er ling") sound like the words for "I love you" ("wo ai ni"). The sequence 748 ("qi si ba") sounds like the curse for "drop dead".

Predictive text software that attempts to guess words (AOL/Tegic Communications's T9 as well as iTAP) or letters (Eatoni's LetterWise) reduces the labor of time-consuming input. This makes abbreviations not only less necessary, but slower to type than regular words which are in the software's dictionary. However it does make the texts longer, often requiring the text message to be sent in multiple parts and therefore costing more to send.

Website portals such as transl8it! have supported a community of users to help standardize this text speak by allowing users to submit translations, staking claim with their user handle, or to submit top messages and guess the lingo phrases. The international popularity of this portal resulted in late 2005 the publishing of the transl8it! dxNRE & glosRE (dictionary & glossary) as the worlds first, and most complete, SMS and text lingo book. Using the free website service sms translations can are easily made both to and from English, allowing simple translations such as the following passage translated from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream:

If we shadwoes ave ofendd. Thnk bt ths & al is mnded. That u ave but slumer’d ere; whiL thse visNs did appr; & this wk & idel theme; no mre yEldN bt a dream. Gentles, do nt reprehNd; if u pardon we wil mend; & I am honst Puck;