SMS vs IM: Difference and Comparison

The world has digitalized, and communication has reached its highest speed. Right from instant messaging to instant location, the world has revolutionized.

Sending messages to other people across various parts of the world has become not only quick but also cheap. The two common ways of message transfer are SMS and IM.

Key Takeaways

  1. SMS relies on cellular networks, whereas IM uses internet connectivity.
  2. IM allows for real-time, multimedia communication, while SMS is limited to text messages.
  3. IM services are free, but SMS may incur additional carrier fees.


SMS uses cellular networks to transmit messages, while IM uses the internet. This means that SMS may have limitations in areas with poor network coverage, while IM can be used anywhere with internet connectivity. IM also offers more features than SMS, like sending and receiving multimedia messages.


SMS is a feature that was developed as an add-on to the services of regular cellular. It was an alternative to the calling facility provided by the telecom sectors.

Initially, SMS was free of cost, and later, companies started to charge extra or minimize the amount of SMS daily or monthly. SMS is also widely used as a marketing and promotion tool.

On the other hand, IM is referred to as the feature of sending messages from one computer to another through the internet is called IM. The feature is easy and does not charge any additional charges.

IM is, however not compatible with every application.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonSMSIM
DefinitionThe feature of sending messages from one phone to another is called SMS The feature sending messages from one computer to another through the internet is called IM
Medium of transmissionThrough the telephone network of a company Through stable Internet connectivity
Cost of servicesPaid servicesFree services
Location limitation SMS plans allow messages to be sent across the same country and extra charges are deducted for international messages IM allows messages to be sent across any part of the globe
Software limitationThere is no software limitation on SMS There is a software limitation in IAM as applications like Skype, GChat, or YM are not compatible with IM

What is SMS?

SMS stands for short message service. It is a messaging service feature available on most devices like telephones, mobile, and other Internet-related systems.

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It follows protocols of standard communication that allow devices to exchange messages in the form of short texts. SMS is the most popular and common method of text communication.

The first definition for SMS was given in 1986, a part of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standards. The first SMS in the form of a text message was sent in 1992. SMS can be sent from one mobile phone to another and to other mobile technologies like ANSI CDMA networks and Digital AMPS.

Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert of the Franco-German GSM cooperation brought forward the concept of SMS.

The global and International SMS messaging business is worth over UDD 100 billion dollars, according to a report of 2018 market research.

The GSM laid out two main services that could be provided in the SMS. The services are Short Message Mobile-Terminated (SMS-MT) and Short Message Mobile Originated (SMS-MO).

The messages in SMS operate on the mechanism called “store and forward”. Initially, the length of messages in SMS was 128 bytes and was later increased to 160 seven-bit characters.

The limitation on the character made people come up with acronyms or abbreviate the terms by removing vowels, to shorten their messages and fit in the limitation criteria.


What is IM?

IM stands for Instant Messaging. The main function of IM is to send messages or information across personal computers.

IM operates on the route called the Internet to pass messages across the corrected network. IM allows users to send messages across various parts of the globe through the Internet.

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The other end of the user also requires a similar application to receive IM.

IM does not put any restrictions on the character of the messages. Users of IM use acronyms and abbreviations to shorten the length of the messages and increase the speed of typing.

There is no additional fee by the ISP for receiving or sending any IM.

Messenger applications like Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Skype, and AIM (AOL Internet Messenger) have to be downloaded first to operate IM.

Through IM, users can send images, attach files, or share videos with others worldwide. The other person can view and access the media instantly while chatting.

Users require stable Internet connectivity, a computer, and the same messenger to operate IM. Also, the users have to be online at the same time to chat instantly in real time.

It allows the users to know whether the person on the other end is online or offline and therefore provides control over the timing of the messages accordingly.

instant messaging

Main Differences Between SMS and IM

  1. SMS operates on a company’s telephone network, while IM operates on Internet connectivity.
  2. SMS is limited within a country, while IM can be sent to any part of the world.
  3. SMS may or may not be free, depending upon the service provider, while IM is free of cost.
  4. SMS can be sent only within a certain range, while IM can be sent across any part of the globe.
  5. SMS has a limitation of 160 characters, while IM has no character limitation.
Difference Between SMS and IM

Last Updated : 18 June, 2023

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