Running the Numbers: How Text Messaging Works
05.03.2013 10:34


Some people use text message marketing like they use their cars. They give the system a little input, and it gets them where they want to go. They’re not interested in what goes on under the hood. 

Others like to know more about the tools they use. A basic understanding of how text messaging works may simply be interesting, or it could provide insight that helps you improve your SMS campaign to better turn potential into profit.

SMS Basics


SMS, or short message service, derives from text communication – essentially an instant message conversation between two mobile devices. The “Short” refers to the character limit imposed on text messaging – 160 characters in the Latin alphabet, 80 characters for more complex alphabets like Chinese Kanji.

On the Airwaves


Even when you’re not using it, your cell phone is constantly in communication with nearby towers. They send each other small packets of data over a “command channel” to establish the phone’s location and confirm that everything is working correctly. When you place or receive a call, the command channel establishes the connection for a broader band that handles the conversation. 

Text messages are small enough that they ride in with those smaller data packets, passing through the core network then out to the tower the recipient phone last checked in with. In addition to the message itself, that data packet includes a variety of other information:

  • Message length
  • Recipient phone number
  • Sender phone number
  • Formatting data
  • Data coding scheme
  • Protocol identifier
  • Time stamp

Repondez S’il Vous Plait


Responding to an SMS message works essentially the same way as sending one. The phone automatically codes a packet of data to go along with the phone’s next check-in via the command channel. That packet hits the data tower, then the core network, and then is pushed out through a tower to your phone. 

On your end, various tools and tracking programs analyze the responses to help you track the performance and response rates to each of your SMS broadcasts. Exactly how these work is also fascinating and useful, but a subject for another post! 


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