Short Message Service (SMS) versus Instant Message (IM). What is better?

Today, mobile communication has become indispensable. It all began with the Short Message Service, shortly SMS. At that time, it was not possible to send pictures and video, let alone share the own location with friends. The message must be communicated in 160 characters, similar to Twitter with 280 Unicode characters (previously 140 characters). A normal mobile phone was sufficient for the communication, independent of the manufacturer and software.

On the other hand, the capabilities of messenger services have increased significantly such as video, audio, images, and voice messages . In addition, security was taken into account by encrypting the content, which is not the case with the good old SMS. GSM networks encrypt short messages, but only while they are being sent. If the messages are stored on the server, they are not secured and are therefore vulnerable to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. This is a clear advantage for the instant message.

Unfortunately, there is the serious disadvantage with instant messages that content cannot be sent between different providers. For example, a WhatApp user cannot send messages, images, or videos to a Threema user and must copy content back and forth between the app windows. However, there are now initial initiatives to open the interfaces between the instant messenger services. Whether this will be successful remains to be seen.

Characteristics at a glance:

Short Message Service (SMS) Instant Message (IM)
Character length Limited to 160 characters
  • max. 4.096 characters for Telegram Messenger
  • max. 65.536 characters for WhatsApp
  • max. 40.000 characters for Slack
  • max. 3.550 characters for Threema
Costs Up to 19 cents per SMS 0 cent (Internet connection costs only)
Features (Video, images, voice message, groups) Not available Available
Encryption Contents not encrypted, only transmission Encryption depends on the provider, but usually end-to-end (E2E)
Communication independent of the message provider possible worldwide Only within the provider network


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