Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Wonderful World of SMS

OK. Here's my first real post and it doesn't have to do specifically with Tracfone, Simple Freedom, T-Mobile To Go or any prepaid (or postpaid) service in particular, except part of it DOESN'T have anything to do with T-Mobile To Go and ALL of it doesn't have anything to do with analog phones or plans (of which there are a few out there, blech). More on T-Mobile To Go later.

What Mean SMS?
So what does SMS mean anyway? It's an acronym for Short Message Service. Short Message means that you are limited to a small amount of characters per message, usually 140 or 160. This is good enough for a quick not, an instant message or a search query, but don't even think about using SMS to write a book or send a letter. It's not made for that. The Service part means that you have to have a capable phone to use it, plus a carrier willing and able to provide it. If your phone and\or service is analog only or is using a very old digital network you can't use SMS. You also may not be able to use it while roaming on an uncooperative carrier's network. You can send\receive SMSes to\from other phones that can do SMS, which means you can talk to 95+% of the cell-phone-toting world without saying a word, to wear out a worn-out cliche even more.

SMS Costs
Some carriers (all but one postpaid) will offer unlimited text messaging for a set rate per month, which may be as low as $3 (our local carrier Five Star Wireless, at least the last time I checked) or as high as $20. Unless you really need to use your phone as an instant messaging station or something very similar (or they offer unlimited text messaging for $3 per month), these plans aren't worth the money. That's because, on a pay-per-message basis, most postpaid carriers (and a few prepaids) cost 10 cents per message to send or receive. And who really wants to use postpaid anyway? Most prepaid carriers give you free incoming text messaging. verizon costs five cents per message to send and receive, versus other carriers' ten. T-Mobile To Go's text messaging is usually significantly cheaper than 10 cents per message. They also have a device and plan with unlimited text messaging (among other things) for $1 per day. More on T-Mobile To Go in another post.

Email Over SMS
One often-overlooked thing about SMS is that your phone has its own email address. It can receive short emails adressed to its ten digit phone number @ your carrier's text messaging domain, as well as send short emails to any email address. For example, if someone had the phone number 555-555-5555 with Sprint PCS you could send an email at 5555555555@messaging.sprintpcs.com. Below are some other carriers' domain names:

Nextel - messaging.nextel.com
T-Mobile (except for Sidekick) - tmomail.net
T-Mobile Sidekick - tmail.com
Virgin Mobile - vmobl.com
Verizon - vtext.com
Qwest - qwestmp.com
Cingular - mobile.mycingular.net
AT&T\Cingular Blue - mmode.com
Boost Mobile - myboostmobile.com
Alltel - message.alltel.com
Simple Freedom - text.simplefreedom.net
Tracfone - depends on which provider you're with; I'll cover this in a later post

I'm pretty sure these are the correct addresses. If they aren't please comment and tell me.

IM over SMS
If you have friendz online u can IM with ur fone 2. :) Well, at least if you use Yahoo Messenger or AIM. MSN Messenger Mobile seems to cost extra. For Yahoo Messenger over SMS, here are the commands:
Sign In - in (ID) (password)
Sign Out - out
Send IM - to (ID) (message)
Add Buddy - add (ID)
Delete Buddy - del (ID)
See who is online - get
Three cheers to Yahoo IM for making their mobile messenger very simple. All you have to do is send these commands to the shortcode 92466 (YAHOO) and it will send a confirmation or other message back, except for the IM command.
AIM is a bit harder. I'm pretty sure you can get the thirty-eight-page manual (you read that right) for the service by clicking links from aim.com. The reason for the length is you send messages (many times blank) to different shortcodes to perform different actions. AIM's command set is more extensive than Yahoo's but all of the extra commands can easily be done without. Also, shortcodes very by carrier and aren't usually five digits. So if you have a Tracfone you must figure out what carrier it's on before you try to use AIM. Personally, I think I might pass up AIM over SMS; it seems a bit too complex for even nerds like me ;).
T-Mobile To Go doesn't support shortcodes, at least not the 5-number kind. This means that Yahoo Messenger and possibly AIM are out the door. Never to fear though; on every new phone T-Mobuile sells instant messenger software for all three big services (MSN, AIM, ICQ) is preloaded and works off of SMS anyway.

SMS Alerts
If you have free-to-receive SMS, sign up for SMS alerts to get the latest news, stocks, weather and even email subjects for free! The only place I know of that does this is Yahoo Alerts (alerts.yahoo.com) but there may be others. What you do is sign up for whatever alerts you want using your Yahoo ID (including new Yahoo mail notifications; that's where the mail subjects comes in), then Yahoo sends the alerts to your phone's email address. This gets slightly clumsy, as email headers take up about one screenful of the SMS alert, but it works fairly well, and you can't beat the price if your incoming SMS messages don't cost.

SMS Search
The two guys outstanding in this field right now are Yahoo and Google. They concentrate on different things, but together they span everything from horoscopes to weather to stocks to driving directions to business and person lookup to plain old web search. You can even send a message to Google SMS to see if that iPod in Best Buy is really the cheapest price out there. To find out more about Google SMS, visit their informative info page at sms.google.com. To find information about each program from your phone, just send "help" to the appropriate shortcode, YAHOO (92466) for Yahoo and GOOGL (46645) for Google SMS. If you're using a carrier that doesn't support shortcodes (such as T-Mobile To Go), 411SMS and Symphonic are similar services that use a regular phone number instead of a shortcode. Go to 411sms.com or symphonic.com (I'm not sure if I spelled the latter right; it may be "synphonic" or "synfonic") for more info on these services.

So that's pretty much all there is to know about SMS, except for these little points:

1. If you want to send more than a very short note, abbreviate. Replace "you" with "u" and "later" with "l8r" to get more words into the message. Ask any teenager who uses instant messaging software (yourself maybe?) and they'll tell you how 2 do it ;).

2. A very few phones have what's called "Linked SMS" which means that, through some special codes as part of the message, you can make an extra-long SMS (usually up to around 460 characters) and have it sent (and billed) as two or three short ones. This is nice if you want to leave a longer note, and are willing to pay for the extra space.

3. You can download ringtones to your phone via SMS. I've had great success doing this for free (I have free incoming SMS) on my Nokia phone. For free ringtones (single-note only) visit 2thumbswap.com, but watch out for the popups!

OK. I guess that's all on the SMS front. Maybe tomorrow I'll talk about super SMS, aka MMS. But ththththththththat's all folks as Bugs Bunny would say...at least for now.

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