Short Message Service

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Short Message Service ( English for short message service , abbreviation SMS ) is a telecommunications service for the transmission of text messages, which are mostly called short messages or SMS . It was first developed for GSM mobile communications and is also available in various countries in the fixed network as a fixed network SMS . Additional services can be connectedvia SMS gateways . The successor to SMS and MMS is the Rich Communication Services (RCS) service.

SMS on a historical mobile phone


Although the abbreviation SMS service (Service) refers to the transmission of short messages, it is today mostly for the text message (Short Message) itself (see also metonymy ). The Duden uses the abbreviation SMS as feminine ; in Switzerland and partly also in Austria the neuter is common.

The service, which was originally intended as part of the signaling channel to set up calls in order to send information about faults in the GSM network to the subscribers, is actually a by-product and was therefore often offered free of charge, but it has become the network operator's biggest source of income. Compared to a normal telephone call, text messages have a low bandwidth requirement. The margin per short message sent is therefore correspondingly high for the network operator.

Further developments of the SMS exist under the names Enhanced Message Service (EMS), Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) and Rich Communication Services (RCS).


Using the numeric keys for letters on a push-button phone

First considerations for the establishment of a text message service arose at the various European telecommunications companies in the course of the standardization efforts. In 1984 it was the Finn Matti Makkonen who suggested using the unused capacities in the mobile network for protected communication. The first version of the final standard was adopted in early 1989. The original conceptual proposal for a short message service was developed by Friedhelm Hillebrand from the then Deutsche Bundespost with contributions from Bernard Ghillebaert from PTT (predecessor of France Télécom ) in 1984 and incorporated into the GSM standardization in February 1985. For example, he set the length to 160 characters because he found that most postcards and telexes were less than 160 characters. Finn Trosby from the Norwegian Telenor was from 1987 to 1990 head of the standardization group GSM4 DGMH (drafting group message handling), which developed and standardized the first technical design. From 1990 to 2009, the SMS standard was further developed in this group under the direction of Kevin Holley from Cellnet and Ian Harris from Vodafone .

On December 3, 1992, engineer Neil Papworth sent the first short message from the Short Message Service (with the text "Merry Christmas") from a PC to an Orbitel TPU 901 mobile phone on the British Vodafone network. This happened about a year after the introduction of the GSM standard for mobile phones in Europe.

Influence on communication and social interaction

Due to the high level of acceptance of SMS, short messages have an increasing influence on social interaction (e.g. making appointments) and language.

So texting since the 1990s in German-speaking and the colloquial name for the sending of text messages to a mobile phone. This neologism is particularly popular with young people because it is much shorter than “sending a short message”. It developed out of an attempt to pronounce smsen and to find an appropriate, workable spelling. The term “text” is also used. In Austria, Switzerland and southern Germany, the term SMSen (pronounced as "es-em-es-en") has become commonplace.

In order to bring more content into the messages, which are limited to 160 characters, a widespread abbreviation culture has developed, which originally arose in chats and e-mails and was adopted from there, see Netjargon and the list of abbreviations for Netjargon . Also are now emoticons so often used in short messages that many of these are already pre-stored in modern mobile phones (can be optionally displayed and graphically).

Economical meaning

The SMS service requires little additional infrastructure, mainly the short message centers . The amount of data transferred is small compared to voice transmission; a short message comprises about 1/1000 of the amount of data of a minute's conversation. In the case of usage-dependent tariffs, the price based on the volume of data is considerably higher than for voice transmission. However, the costs for setting up and operating the network are only partly dependent on the data transmission rate made available.

Initially, SMS was offered free of charge by the network providers, which was later discontinued due to its economic potential. The prices for SMS fluctuate very strongly within Europe. A message costs around 9 cents to 15 cents in France, within the network from 1 cents in Austria, around 3 cents to 39 cents and more in Germany, between 10 and 20 cents (around 9 and 19 cents) in Switzerland and around 15 in Italy Cent; in Denmark, however, usually only 20  Øre , which corresponds to about 2.7 cents.

In 2003, over 115 billion text messages were sent in Europe. Most of them, namely 25.5 billion messages, were sent in Germany. In 2010 there were already 41.3 billion in Germany. The success of the SMS used with the help of mobile phones was thus significantly higher than that of its predecessors, i.e. the digital radio pager.

The use of short messages has declined sharply since around 2013/2014. This is due to the increasing spread of internet-enabled smartphones on the one hand and free instant messaging services (such as WhatsApp ) on the other. Messaging services also make it easier to send voice messages, photos and videos. On the other hand, the SMS is preferred in online banking, for example, to legitimize transactions ("mobile TAN"). It plays a role here that neither an Internet connection nor registration with a third-party provider is required for the SMS.


Number of SMS sent in Germany 1999–2014
Short messages in Germany
year number source
1996 0.1 billion
1997 0.4 billion
1998 1.0 billion
1999 3.6 billion
2000 11.4 billion
2001 17.1 billion
2002 18.4 billion
2003 19.0 billion
2004 19.7 billion
2005 22.3 billion
2006 20.1 billion
2007 23.1 billion
2008 27.8 billion
2009 34.4 billion
2010 41.3 billion
2011 55.0 billion
2012 59.0 billion
2013 38.0 billion
2014 22.5 billion
2015 16.6 billion
2016 12.7 billion
2017 10.4 billion
2018 8.9 billion
2019 7.9 billion

The SMS popularity increased in Germany almost every year. While around 11.4 billion short messages were sent in 2000, in 2005 it was over 22 billion. In 2010, according to the Bitkom industry association (based on data from the Federal Network Agency), Germans typed 41 billion short messages into their cell phones and smartphones. After the further strong increase up to 2012, the number of short messages sent fell in 2013 for the first time by 37 percent to around 38 billion. In 2014, the number of SMS sent fell again by 41 percent compared to the previous year to 22.5 billion.

Premium services

Premium services have also been possible in Germany since spring 2003 . The costs for a Premium Rate SMS (PR-SMS) start at 0.29 euros and then increase in 10-cent steps up to 4.99 euros. PR-SMS serves as a billing option in the micropayment area (e.g. for purchased ring tones, logos, televoting and other services that have to be paid for individually), but is also used for erotic communication ( flirtline ) and is in competition with the 0900 telephone numbers ( earlier: 0190).

The provider of a paid service receives around 50 to 60% of the income from the premium messages, the rest goes to the mobile operator (compare 0900 number: around 80 to 90% for the service provider). Despite these significantly worse conditions, the easy-to-communicate short codes are increasingly being used in various service areas that are specifically used by young target groups.

When collecting the connection fee, the mobile network operator is obliged to provide the customer with information about the basis for the claim.


Short messages in Austria
year number
2005 1.659 billion
2006 2.082 billion
2007 3.316 billion
2008 4.728 billion
2009 5.740 billion
2010 6.416 billion
2011 7.282 billion
2012 7.754 billion
2013 5.917 billion
2014 4.445 billion

In 2009, over five billion short messages were sent in Austria for the first time and a new record of 1.5 billion short messages was set in the fourth quarter. Overall, there was an increase in the SMS volume of more than 21% compared to 2008. The reasons for this growth lay among other things in the fact that the mobile network operators were increasingly offering flat-rate packages that not only contain minutes of conversation but also a defined number of short messages included (mostly between 100 and 1000). According to the RTR Telekom-Monitor Annual Report 2011, a second reason was the increasing spread of machine-to-machine applications.

In the following years the growth rate steadily decreased again and in 2012 only reached 6.5%. After a maximum of 7.7 billion short messages in 2012, the absolute number has also fallen sharply since 2013.

United States

In the United States , SMS was unknown for a long time because the pager system was established there and messages could only be sent within the same cellular network. This obstacle has now been removed, and the number of short messages sent per month is increasing, while the number of pager messages sent is stagnating. The SMS service is partly marketed in the United States under the name "text messaging". The costs vary between completely free of charge, 10  US- ¢ (approx. 8.4 cents) per sent message / receipt free of charge and 5 US- ¢ (approx. 4.2 cents) per received or sent message.


Short messages can also be sent over the Internet. In the first few years, sending short messages over the Internet was free , just like within the cellular networks themselves. Today it is possible to send short messages over the Internet at a price between 4 and 10 cents, depending on the delivery speed and additional services offered. However, there are also free offers that are mostly financed through advertising.

The latter are often financed by trading in personal information, including e-mail addresses that are passed on to external address brokers in order to e.g. B. to send advertising emails, or complete data sets of the respective user, from which interest profiles can be created, which have a high sales value, since address brokers can thus offer their customers data sets that contain specific target groups. SMS subscriptions with costs are increasingly being taken out; the user is often not sufficiently informed about the costs involved. In addition, most free text messages have an advertising text attached to them, with fewer than the usual 160 characters available to the user.



For the transmission of SMS via fixed line telephones, see Fixed line SMS.
The SMS uses a signaling channel of the GSM standard such as SDCCH (Stand-alone Dedicated Control Channel) or FACCH (Fast Associated Control Channel). These channels are also used to establish and hold conversations. You can send / receive short messages parallel to a telephone connection. For this purpose, part of the bandwidth of the traffic data channel is temporarily reconfigured as a signaling channel (SACCH) and used to send / receive a short message.

Such a message is always sent from the mobile phone to a short message center ( SMSC ), usually that of the network operator. The number of the short message center has the same structure as a "normal" cell phone number (MSISDN = Mobile Subscriber Integrated Services Digital Network Number) and is stored in the settings of the SIM card . The short message center reads, among other things, the destination number from the header and either sends the message to this destination number in its own network or transfers it to the network operator of the destination number. The various network operators are interconnected ( interconnected ). If the recipient is not a mobile device but an application (for example when registering for a short message newsletter service), the content of the message is forwarded to the server of the service provider via data connections .

The limitation to 160 characters for a short message results from the maximum useful data length of the MAP (Mobile Application Part) of the signaling system number 7 . This is used to transfer short messages between the MSC and the SMSC. Due to a maximum MSU (Message Signal Unit) packet size of 272 octets in signaling system number 7, the available user data length is limited to 140 octets (140 octets = 140 of 8 bits each = 1120 bits). Short messages can be transmitted in various character encodings , for example in the GSM 7-bit coding common in Central Europe , with which a maximum of 160 characters (160 x 7 bits = 1120 bits) are possible; in 8-bit coding 140 characters are possible, in 16-bit coding only 70 characters.

The use of just one 16-bit special character changes the coding scheme of a short message and reduces its (partial) length to 70 characters, which can be cost-relevant.

In the case of excessively long short messages, so-called multi-SMS (Concatenated SMS, Long SMS), longer texts are split up and sent individually and each individual part is usually billed as a separate short message. The recipient (if able) then puts the parts back together to form a coherent text.

Structure of a short message

A text message consists of two parts:

(English for "[letter] head") Various basic message parameters are specified in the header, for example sender number, coding (7 bit , 8 bit, 16 bit), character set, recipient number, etc.
(English for "body") It is the actual message content, which consists of the user data that is to be transmitted and finally shown on the display . The maximum size of a body is limited to 1,120 bits (= 160 characters for text messages), but it is possible to link several messages with each other (“concatenated SMS / Enhanced Message Service (EMS)”).


SMS editor with input assistance for Chinese characters ; translated: "Hello! WIKIPEDIA! Hello everyone at Wikipedia! You know …"

There are three different types of SMS encoding:

7 bit
For text messages with a limited number of characters
8 bit
For data messages ( binary content) such as B. Logos , picture messages and ringtones
16 bit
Unicode ( UCS2 ), i.e. H. UTF-16 limited to BMP ( Basic Multilingual Plane ) . This allows texts in all living languages, including z. B. Asian characters are transmitted. However, the number of characters per text message is reduced to 70 characters

Operating modes

The SMS knows 3 operating modes:

(MO = mobile originated): A short message is sent from a mobile device to the network of the operator (= network operator). The forwards either to another mobile device or to an application.
(MT = mobile terminated): Another mobile device or an application triggers the operator to send a short message to a mobile device.
(CB = cell broadcast ): The operator sends certain information to all registered mobile radio devices in a radio cell. It can be about general information services or the area code of the current location. The messages are sent with a topic ID. This must be activated in the phone for reception. The message length is a maximum of 93 characters.

Special message types

Flash message
Flash messages (often: "Flash SMS", English for "lightning SMS") appear directly on the display. It is not necessary to press the display button; most cell phones cannot store such messages either. They show e.g. B. Immediately after a conversation, how much credit is left. Another application is the prioritized display for alerting emergency services, for example the fire brigade.
Silent message
Silent Messages (often referred to as: Silent SMS , Stealth SMS , Stille SMS , stealthy ping or Short Message Type 0 ) shows neither the display nor an acoustic signal. However, connection data such as the user identification IMSI is generated by the mobile network provider . Such short messages are used in particular by the police to locate people or to create entire movement profiles . In terms of volume, however, the silent SMS is used the most by the customs investigation authorities (2010: 236,000) and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (2010: 107,000). Silent SMS can also be sent privately, but then only show that the addressed SIM is logged in or that the receiving device is ready to receive. Silent SMS is used intensively by the police and secret services throughout Germany. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the Federal Criminal Police Office and Customs used this form of surveillance almost 1.7 million times between 2006 and 2011.
Concatenated Message
Several short messages are combined into a single message. SMS1 + SMS2 +… + SMSn = message text

Undeliverable messages / receipts

If a message cannot be delivered because the receiving device is switched off or is in a dead zone, the short message center (SMSC) of the network to which the recipient number belongs stores it for a retention time of at least 5 minutes and a maximum of 63 weeks. The maximum retention time depends on the provider. The SMSC makes further attempts to send at regular intervals until the message is finally deleted after the time has elapsed. In such a case, the network operators still charge the normal shipping fees.

If a message cannot be delivered due to an unknown recipient number, the SMSC will reject it when it is sent.

A user can send a short message from a cell phone and have the transmission confirmed. This tells the sender at what moment the recipient switches on his cell phone if B. was turned off. Since the network operators do not always adhere to the standards created for this, SMS receipt confirmations are only of limited informative value. For example, some network operators automatically acknowledge every SMS from an external network immediately, regardless of whether the mobile phone is switched on and the recipient has received the SMS or will ever receive it due to the retention time, others never acknowledge. Swiss providers support the code * N # placed in front of the text as a command for a confirmation of receipt. Other codes like * T # and # * # are less common.

Quality features

The quality of the message transmission is not specified in the standards of the ETSI or in the contracts of the individual providers.

  • The amount of information is usually transmitted without any loss.
  • When sending SMS between networks of different providers, unexpected runtimes of several hours can occur.

Alternative receive numbers

Differences between the number types
Shortcodes Long number
National accessibility International accessibility
short term availability long-term availability

Managed directly by the network operator's short message center
Direct purchase from mobile messaging
providers with SS7 access
medium cost low cost

As an alternative to "normal" phone numbers, you can also send short messages to so-called abbreviated dialing numbers or shortcodes. Shortcodes are managed directly in the network operator's short message center, so they are not tied to a SIM card. Shortcodes are often used, especially in marketing, because they are easy to communicate, allow a higher message throughput and, if necessary, can be used as a billing method due to increased costs (see economic significance / applications).

There are also so-called long codes, e.g. +447624556335 - also known as virtual receive numbers. This is also an SMS reception mechanism that enables a large number of companies to receive a high volume of SMS from cell phone users, but also calls. In addition to international accessibility, long numbers offer companies such as advertising agencies the opportunity to use their own and thus personalized numbers for their marketing campaigns over the long term. These can be mobile promotions, television votes, sweepstakes campaigns, etc. Depending on the focus of the respective company, both short codes and long numbers are used.

Text recognition

The text entry system Text on 9 keys , or T9 for short, invented in 1998 made entering text much easier and more convenient because it is usually not necessary to tap a key multiple times for the correct letter. T9 is based on intelligent text recognition using a dictionary stored in the mobile phone. T9 does not work for Swiss German , which is particularly popular with the younger generation in Switzerland.

The similarly functioning iTap is used in Motorola cell phones .

Use for device control

Aside from its function as a means of communication, SMS can also be used to control and monitor technical devices.

For example, it is possible to open a garage door or dispense a drink from a drinks machine by sending a short message to a specific telephone number. In Austria, it is possible to purchase cigarettes from vending machines via SMS using the Paybox service . Billing takes place via the bank account.

In the case of alarm systems and heating systems , the owner can be alerted or notified of malfunctions by means of prefabricated messages stored in the system via short messages.

In Vorarlberg , SMS technology is used to notify public buses at the push of a button when they need to travel to remote so-called “on-call bus stops”.

In some municipalities such as Dörentrup in North Rhine-Westphalia , the street lighting that has been switched off for cost reasons can be switched on briefly via SMS.

In the German toll system , the on-board units use SMS to transfer billing data.

Road traffic hazards

The writing and reading of text messages by the driver of a car is just as fined as making a phone call if the phone is operated by hand in accordance with Section 23 (1a) of the StVO . According to a representative study, the danger posed by using the SMS function and the associated distraction should not be neglected. Almost 49% of all Germans read SMS at the wheel; similar figures are known in the international environment. Because of the increasing number of accidents caused by SMS, the mobile operator AT&T started a campaign in July 2012 against reading and sending text messages while driving.

New year problem

Although the mobile networks in Germany are well developed, network overloads and thus delays in short messages can occur at the turn of the year, or even that it is no longer possible to send a short message. During the nightly transition from 2007 to 2008, 43 billion short messages were sent worldwide, 300 million of them in Germany. “The busier the place where the sender is, the greater the likelihood that the SMS will take more time than usual,” said Bitkom spokesman Christian Hallerberg.

See also


  • Bernd vom Berg, Jürgen Engelmann, Peter Groppe: Remote control via SMS , switching and monitoring with the mobile phone, Elektor, Aachen 2002, ISBN 3-89576-126-5 .
  • Bo Hanus: Switching, controlling and monitoring with the mobile phone , remote switching of devices, worldwide remote monitoring, silent alarm during absence, controlling and regulating in the house and garden, use as a listening device. Franzis, Poing 2001, ISBN 3-7723-5665-6 (= Do it yourself ).
  • Stephan Tölpe: The criminal investigation measure "silent SMS". wvb, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-86573-365-8 (also dissertation at the European University Viadrina , Frankfurt (Oder) 2007).

Web links

Wiktionary: SMS  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Short message  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Short Message Service  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on January 1, 2006 .