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Why Text Messages (SMS) Consist Of Up To 160 Characters

Updated on February 7, 2013

The text messages

Cell phones are everywhere today and some features seem so standard that we don't think of them anymore; they are available, so we use them. There was a time, however, when mobile communications were extremely innovative and introduction of new features would generate a sparkle. Everything we could do with those phones back then was exciting - who could forget the popular "Snakes" game?

SMS, short for Short Messaging Service was one of those features; it gained popularity at once among mobile phone users and still exists, even if additional communication methods and added connectivity ways showed up. Is there anyone in the whole world who has never "texted" someone?

SMS provides a fast method of communicating with another person, in a way that does not need voice data to be transferred, thus it is quite cheap and up to the point. In a text message, the user needs to complete his message in an understandable, complete way using keyboard characters, but only up to 160 of them.
Why is there such a limit, however?

The Origins Of SMS

Hillebrand Friedhelm was a German communications engineer who, in 1985, thought of the whole idea of text messaging through cell phones. Having discussed with friends and fellow scientists of a way to use cell phones to transmit messages through cellular network, but without consuming much bandwidth (which was not available back then), he sat one night and started typing sentences with his typewriter. When he had compiled many "short messages" he found out that they all are less than 160 characters long. This made him think that this number of characters is perfectly fine and sufficient for standard communication needs of cell phone users.

So, that night in Friedhelm's room in Bonn, Germany, text messaging was born and the engineer gained the title of "Father of SMS". His creation is still alive and strong, even though he never got the popularity he probably deserved.

Due to technical issues, initial SMS applications included a limit of 128 characters; with additional software techniques, however, 32 more characters were added and that first idea was implemented with 160 characters long short messages.

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