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Why is a Text Message 160 Characters?



Have you ever wondered why a text message is limited to 160 characters? Well it’s actually a pretty unscientific reason, but let me tell you the story as to why our beloved text messages are only 160 characters.


Friedhelm Hillebrand

So back in 1985 there was this guy named Friedhelm Hillebrand, who was the chairman of the non-voice services committee within the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), a group that sets standards for the majority of the global mobile market. This guy had the task of setting the limit on the amount of characters a text message could contain.

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Typewriter Method

To do this, Friedhelm sat at his typewriter, typing out random sentences and questions on a sheet of paper to see what the average amount of characters he used was. He found that each set of sentences, ran just under 160 characters in length. That was good enough for him, so he told his committee that text messages would be limited to 160 characters. Pretty scientific right?

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Friedhelm’s methods didn’t sit well with the rest of the committee, as they doubted a text message limited to 160 characters would be enough space to prove a useful form of communication. So to calm their fears, he backed up his assumption of limiting text messages to 160 characters by doing the following “market research”.


Postcard Method

Friedhelm took a bunch of postcards that he had received and found that often these postcards contained fewer than 150 characters. By this finding, he was being nice by offering consumers an additional 10 characters.

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Telex Method

Friedhelm then analyzed a bunch of messages sent through Telex (a telegraphy network for business professionals). Even though these Telex transmissions didn’t have a limit on the amount of characters they were able to send, he found that on average the Telex messages were about the same length as the postcards.

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So thanks to the many trials and tribulations of Friedhelm Hillebrand back in 1985, that’s why text messages are limited to 160 characters. Need more than 160-characters in your message? If so, check out MMS messaging, which allows up to 5,000 characters, and instead of limiting you to just plain text, you can include images, videos, GIFs, and even emojis. Learn more about MMS messaging by clicking here.

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