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How SMS Works
 by: Jim Sherman

SMS, or Short Message Service, is the technology behind what we often refer to as ‘text messages’ or ‘SMSes’, as well as what allows for news alerts on cellular phones. In recent years SMS has ballooned to over a 50 billion dollar industry and is quickly taking the communications world by storm.

Short Message Service actually refers to a framework that uniquely allows computers, or in this case phones, to communicate with each other without the need of a central hub. With SMS, phones can find each other, send short packets of information back and forth, and do it all without any central computer to guide them. But because the system does not rely upon fixed lines like a land based telephone system does, the amount of information that can be sent at one time is limited in size. This depends on the language spoken, but for English letters this typically means around 150 characters (Chinese and Japanese letters are limited to 70).

Quite recently, however, new developments in the technology have allowed for even longer messages to be sent. Long or Concatenated SMS is a development that allows multiple messages to be combined to form a single message. In effect, what happens is that your phone actually sends out a few smaller messages and then the receiving phone simply compiles those messages so that for users on both ends, it appears as though the message were cohesive. While there are some limitations, the brilliance behind SMS is that because there is no need for central hubs, and thus the system can be expanded indefinitely without any concerns of it slowing down or becoming more expensive.

The most common form of SMS is ‘texting’. This usually takes place with a cellular phone in which individuals use the letters behind the number pad on their phone to spell out words and phrases and then send them out. Because many companies charge by the word, individuals have come up with a sort of ‘texting slang’ to cut down on the amount of words required to convey a particular message. For example, ‘gr8’ and ‘BTW’ mean ‘great’ and ‘by the way’. In addition, other words have just been shortened, such as ‘lata’ to mean ‘later’. Most users simply pick up the lingo through frequent use, and although some slang is widely understood and used, other shortcuts are developed within circles of friends and family.

The major advantage of SMS is its price. The price is typically $0.05 per message, a significant cut below that of traditional telephony and cell phone per-minute charges. The savings of SMS has its roots in the nature of the technology. Short Message Service, like SIP, is modeled on a peer to peer model and not a cog and wheel like traditional communication systems. This means that instead of having to route a message through a central hub, your text goes straight from you to its destination. This has radically cut down on the cost of SMS implementation and led to its overwhelming popularity throughout the world.

Short Message Service (SMS) has radically changed the face of the communications industry. While the practice has become quite common throughout the world, it has only recently become popular here in the United Stats, a growth partly predicated upon, surprisingly enough, its featured role in the show American Idol. The fact that ‘texting’ is quickly gaining both in popularity and recognition in the United States is not surprising however, due to its ability to offer users a cheap, quick, and often fun way to communicate with friends and family.


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