Why are SMS 160 characters?

Have you wondered ‘Why are SMS 160 characters?’

Why not a nice round 100 or 200? Such an arbitrary figure on the face of it.

It’s all down to a German guy called Friedhelm Hillebrand.

It was a different world then. It was 1985, back in the day, before computers were everywhere (I just about remember them..).  Friedhelm typed out random sentences on a typewriter and then counted.  He discovered the average sentence was almost always less than 160 characters. When postcards were looked at they often contained fewer than 150 characters too.

160 came out as ‘the’ number ‘perfectly sufficient’ he thought.

Why the limitation Friedhelm?

Text messaging was originally an afterthought to voice calls, and was bolted onto a bit of spare bandwidth. There wasn’t much of that bandwidth around so there was a cap to how much could be fitted in.

In fact the developers had to work really hard to make it more than 128 characters and only managed it by limiting the character set and symbols available to put in your text. You will notice even today if you put a € sign in your SMS it will take up two character spaces of you 160 allowance.

What happened next?

It went global from one message in 1985 to billions today

As a knock on effect he’s also the reason why your tweets are 140 characters.

Twitter always accounted for people updating  via the 160 character text message. To keep users phone bills down and to stop multiple text’s being sent by mistake, Twitters engineers limited Tweets at 140, to leave room for a username at the front of the Tweet

Was a 160 character SMS right?

Friedhelm had a puzzle to solve, a meaningful amount of words were wanted to make an SMS worthwhile and understandable. He only had a small packet to fit them into.  In essence, the answer to why are sms 160 characters is because they fit.

Friedhelm made a pretty good call on 160, there are billions of people a year texting so.

If you want to beat the system and know how to get a longer text message out there check out concatenated SMS.