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What is SMS?

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By Danielle Dunne

(IDG) -- SMS, or short messaging service, is all the rage in Europe and parts of Asia. Teens and adults walk around looking and typing on their phones instead of talking on them. In May of this year, 19 billion short messages were sent, according to the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) Association.

People in the United States may be using one-way SMS without knowing it -- text updates delivered to phones (sports scores, news headlines) are sent in part via SMS.

What is SMS?

Short messaging service is exactly what it sounds like -- it's a text message sent or received to or from a mobile phone. The text messages are short, up to 160 characters, and if a phone is out of coverage, in use or turned off, the service holds the message until the phone comes back into the area. Using SMS is easy.

You type a message on a phone (some phones have special dictionaries that make typing easier), specify who's to get the message and send it. Then the receiver sees the message displayed on his or her phone.

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Short messages can originate from other phones or the Internet, but they're all delivered via a short messaging center (SMSC). The SMS centers receive messages from a range of places, including phones within their networks, the Internet and other mobile operators at SMS centers, then send the messages to their customers.

What is GSM?

GSM, or the global system for mobile communications, is a digital system with a specified standard for how data is sent over a wireless network. GSM is predominately used in Europe and other parts of the world (GSM is slowly becoming more popular in the States). Many different standards are used to send data over mobile networks in the United States

Why hasn't SMS caught on in the U.S.?

Unlike Europe, the mobile operators in the U.S. use a number of different technologies to provide wireless services. For SMS to work easily the operators need to be using the same technologies. U.S. carriers are at least a year away from a solution.

In the U.S., text messages delivered to mobile phones -- such as sports updates and news headlines -- get there via SMS (even if these messages start out as e-mails), but few domestic users can send text (or SMS) messages from their phones. SMS may also be called different things, like "two-way text messaging," in the U.S.

Why has SMS become so popular in Europe?

SMS is less expensive than making a phone call, and the youth population in Europe picked up on that idea quickly. SMS is usually used in addition to voice services, but the cost per message is significantly less than making a phone call.

The popularity of SMS was a pleasant surprise to mobile operators too, since the cost of sending and delivering messages is low -- SMS has become a lucrative revenue stream. SMS does not eat up the same spectrum that voice traffic consumes. Messages use little bandwidth and carriers do not have to deliver them in real time (like they do with voice transmissions).

Could SMS become as popular in the U.S. as it is in Europe?

There is a good chance that some kind of messaging will become popular in the U.S., but it may not be SMS. The type of messaging could be Internet related -- e-mail to mobile phones or instant messaging for wireless phones. "We will see an increase in text messaging," says Golvin. "Whether that happens through SMS, IM or e-mail is irrelevant. What matters is that it is as simple as making a phone call."





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