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Why are Text Messages Limited to 160 Characters?

Ashmeet Bagga
Text messaging is a very common feature available on all phones. But have you ever wondered why texts have a 160-character limit? What's the mystery behind the 160 character text limit?

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Researchers claim that a cell phone is widely used for reasons other than calling. We use some features of our phones just because it is there. But earlier, a minute innovation would catch a large number of people's attention. Everybody remembers that popular Snake game. Text messaging or SMS was one such feature, it is still popular and used by many.
Texting is the fastest way of talking to somebody without the need of transferring voice data. Today people hardly talk over the phone, in fact everybody is so hooked on texting. Most of the business runs via text messages. Want anything delivered? Drop a text. Want to cast a vote? Ping. Of course text messages are cheaper compared to the calling rates.
Youngsters particularly are so addicted to texting, that they prefer communication via texts rather than meeting somebody face to face. All a user has to do is frame his sentence utilizing keyboard characters. But the major drawback is the 160 characters limit including punctuation, spaces. So why is there a limit? Let's learn more about it here.

Why Do Texts Have A 160 Character Limit?

► The SMS concept was suggested by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. They both worked in the Franco-German GSM cooperation. The main idea behind SMS was to utilize telephone-optimized system and to transfer messages on the signaling paths. These paths are required to control the telephone traffic at times when less signaling traffic existed.
► Due to this idle resources could be used to transfer messages at less costs. But this was only possible if the length of the text could be reduced to 160 seven bit-characters. This would ensure that the message could easily fit into the signaling formats.
► This is when Friedhelm Hillebrand started his work. In 1985, he figured out a way to transfer messages via cellular network but with less bandwidth. So one night, he sat with his typewriter and started typing sentences including spaces and punctuation marks. He typed out many sentences and noticed all the sentences were less than 160 characters long.
► He claimed that 160 characters were sufficient for a text message, but the committee was still unsure about the idea. So to ease their fear, he made some personal observations and analyzed them. He went through a bunch of postcards he had received and counted the number of characters. The messages were less than 150 characters.
► Next he examined a couple of messages sent via Telex. There was no limit on the characters, but on an average he noticed that the messages were of the same length as the post cards. Upon proving his point the said limit was enforced.
► But there are other limiting factors too. Generally cell phones are supported by huge towers accountable for transmitting calls. These towers are constantly in touch with the cell phones they assist, which is known as control channel.
► So when mobile phone providers planned to establish a method for transferring messages, this channel was simple and easy to use. All that was left was to set up a service center, which could receive messages and deliver them to appropriate towers.
Since GSM was restricted by the hardware, so they had to come up with a plan that could encode a small number of characters of 7 bits each.
► SMS users who use other characters are limited to less than 160 characters. In fact Chinese, Arabic, and Cyrillic SMS make use of UTF-16 encoding, it requires 16 bits per character. So the SMS limit further goes down to 67 characters.
► Mobile based messaging systems allow users to send small SMS to one another also known as micro-blogging. Since the SMS has 160 characters limit, the founders decide to stay on the safe side. The reason was that anyone receiving a message via SMS would receive it completely in a single text message.
Many smartphone users can exceed the characters limit. They can send longer messages which appears to be one complete message to both the sender and the receiver. However, while transmitting they are broken into smaller sections and assembled upon delivery.