MMS or SMS? Actually, you don’t have to choose!

Dave Hitchins

Ask a random colleague ‘What does SMS mean’? and chances are they won’t get it exactly right, even though we have all been sending them for years!

Of course, you know that it stands for Short Messaging Service, which ironically is quite a long name – hence we all use the acronym. The ‘short’ refers to the character limit for a single message, which is 160 characters.

You will also know that MMS stands for Multimedia Message Service, and as the name implies allows mobile phone users to send images, videos and contacts like you would with modern messaging apps – in addition to unlimited text characters.

There are limits on the total size of message that can be reliably sent (300KB is the figure most often quoted by network providers) but what you get is the ability to deliver rich content straight to people’s message inbox, without them needing an app.

If you ever find yourself in Middle-of-nowhere then you will be very happy that the bus company can send you your ticket out of there in the form of a QR code to your mobile. This is a key benefit of MMS.

Of course, there are cost implications, with network providers charging a premium on MMS messages when compared to their standard SMS tariff – in the region of 4x more than standard SMS. Your customers might love all that multimedia goodness, but when you are sending high volumes, the costs will quickly mount up and your boss will be looking very closely at the ROI.

Thankfully, there is another way.

MMS SMS and happy customers

You shouldn’t be forced into thinking of SMS vs MMS when deciding on which service to use in your campaign messaging. They each have their strengths and unique features that make them suited to particular types of communication.

In an effective omnichannel communication strategy you don’t have to choose between the two, but can use both, leveraging each’s best features depending on the context.

This has been highlighted by a number of our clients in the healthcare sector who use the SMS and MMS channels very effectively to fulfill prescriptions, for example for contact lenses.

When ordering new lenses, customers simply take a picture of their prescription from their phone and send it via MMS to a Short Code for verification by customer service agents. Once the MMS has been received, the two-way conversation to fulfill the prescription request proceeds by SMS entirely, to take advantage of the cost savings.

On the customers phone, both SMS and MMS messages are displayed chronologically in the same thread – so there is no need to switch to another channel, and the conversation history is all in one place.

If required, email addresses and URLs can be sent by SMS if there is a need to direct the customer to another channel for any request that falls outside of the prescription workflow.

The end result is that the customer gets an easy and frictionless experience that they can complete entirely on their mobile phone.

The business gets maximum ROI and most importantly, happy customers.

The right tool for the job

Use SMS for 2FA

Best practice for using MMS and SMS


With MMS messages that include carefully crafted creatives and CTAs you might find that the recipient doesn’t see exactly what you intended. This is because the same message may appear differently on different handsets and even on different OS versions on the same handset.

Some people will still have old non-smart phones that don’t support MMS.

It is best to test using a range of devices and OS versions so that you can get it just right.

Message sizes

As we have mentioned before, 300KB is often mentioned as an upper size limit for MMS messages. Practically, if you are sending a lot of messages and you want to get the optimum delivery rates, then the limit will be far lower than this.

Through experience we have found that 150KB is a good balance between ensuring deliverability and being able to include the rich media that makes MMS messages so compelling.

Allow for message throttling

Service providers handle hundreds of millions of both SMS and MMS messages through their infrastructure every day. At times of peak usage, they will use throttling to manage the flow of messages through their network so that hardware limits are not reached.

This can cause a delay to some messages being delivered, or when you are sending a set of messages in a particular order, it may mean that the messages are actually delivered to recipients in the wrong order.

You can mitigate this with MMS by using SMIL Format to ensure that messages are received by users in the correct order. You can also use it to make sure that images and associated text are displayed in the required order within the messages.

Use sender names

Recipients don’t react well to messages from unknown numbers. They are unlikely to have your number stored in their phone so with SMS and MMS messages use the option to include sender name so that the person will recognize that the message is from a trusted brand.

Sender name is slightly different to alphanumeric sender IDs as it can be used in two-way conversations whereas alphanumeric sender IDs are used to send messages that can’t be replied to.

Customer payment plans

Be aware that your customers will have a range of mobile plans, and some may not cover MMS. Some people may actually have to pay to receive an MMS message from you. They will be less than impressed – it is a bit like having to pay extra to get a letter that has insufficient postage!

Use reporting to guide strategy

With both MMS and SMS you can create in-depth reports to track key stats, including:

  • Total Messages Sent
  • Delivery Rate: (Delivered Messages / Total Messages Sent) * 100%
  • Unique Click-Through Rate: (Unique Clicks / Delivered) * 100%
  • Conversion Rate: (Converted / Delivered Links) * 100
  • Revenue Per Message: Total Revenue / Total Messages Delivered

Use these stats to optimize your messaging for particular campaigns, territories, and network providers to maximize your ROI.

Every business is unique. We can help with both the tools and expertise to create messaging experiences for mobile that are just right for your customers.

Deliver engaging messaging experience with MMS

Find out how
Mar 25th, 2022
5 min read

Dave Hitchins