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MMS vs. SMS: How do they differ?

Discover the differences between the two mobile messaging channels and how they can enhance your communication strategy when paired together.

What are the differences between SMS and MMS?

Ask a random colleague ‘What does SMS or MMS mean’? and chances are they won’t get it exactly right, even though we have all been sending them for years! Of course, you have a general idea of what they are, but to understand when and how to use each channel, we should explore their respective pros and cons.

Key differences between SMS and MMS

160 character limitHigher limit than SMS- dependent on provider
Send text onlySend text, videos, images
InexpensiveMore expensive than SMS
Any mobile phone can receive SMSNot all mobile phones can receive MMS
Ideal for immediate communication (ie. reminders, announcements, updates, 2FA)Ideal for creative messages (ie. promotions, coupons, QR codes)

MMS and SMS: The perfect combination

You shouldn’t be forced into thinking of SMS messaging vs MMS messaging 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:

Tips 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 size

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.

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 – so SMS becomes a great alternative to send your customers messages and avoid any unexpected charges.

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.