How Does Text Messaging Work?

By Tiesha Whatley


Texting on cell phones has become the preferred way of communication amongst the younger generation. Now with more sophisticated phones and smart devices, texting has spilled over into the business world and become a hit with adults. As new cell phones come out, networks are offering better solutions and packages for this new technical obsession.Some may wonder what the technology behind text messaging is or how it is possible. How does text travel over the airwaves and reach its desired destination intact? The technology behind text messaging is SMS (short message service). SMS is used to send and receive messages to and from cellular phones. SMS has its limitations since it only allows for up to 160 characters in the messages. The 160-character limit is only for Latin letters, numbers and symbols. Other languages have a 70-character limit.

How it Works

Cell phones are always sending and receiving information through signals even when the phone isn't in use. The signals are sent and received from a cell phone tower or control channel. In order for the phone calls and messages to come through, the control channel needs to know which phone belongs to which phone number. Depending on the location of the cell phone, it will communicate with different towers as the user moves around the city, state, country and even the world. If the phone is unable to communicate with a tower, then it will not receive a signal and can't be used.The control channel maps the path for SMS, or text messages. When a message is sent, it first must go through the nearby tower and then the SMS center. The SMSC receives the message and sends it to the appropriate tower closest to the location of the cell phone and then to the destination. So what is the SMS job in the entire process? SMS formats the message in a way that it is able to travel to and from the town, and still be received by the cell phone. SMS also sends data associated with the message, such as the length of the message, destination, format and time stamp.


There are reasons why users prefer text messaging over other forms of communications. For one, they are more discreet than a phone call because the threat of being overheard is removed. Sending a text message is also quicker than placing a telephone call. SMS provides portability that email and instant messaging over a computer does not (although new Smart phones are on the market that handle these tasks). SMS messages can also be delivered even if the phone is turned off or out of range. Once regular service is once again supplied to the phone, any waiting messages will come through.


There are certain disadvantages to using text messaging. The SMS technology can easily be attacked. An overwhelming number of text messages sent at once can overpower the control channels and hinder people from receiving their phone calls. Critics have also criticized the cost of text messaging and the sometimes long hold time involved in receiving messages.