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Communications

Why Text Messages Are Limited To 160 Characters 504

The LA Times has a story about Friedhelm Hillebrand, one of the communications researchers behind efforts to standardize various cell phone technologies. In particular, he worked out the 160 character limit for text messages. "Hillebrand sat at his typewriter, tapping out random sentences and questions on a sheet of paper. As he went along, Hillebrand counted the number of letters, numbers, punctuation marks and spaces on the page. Each blurb ran on for a line or two and nearly always clocked in under 160 characters. That became Hillebrand's magic number ... Looking for a data pipeline that would fit these micro messages, Hillebrand came up with the idea to harness a secondary radio channel that already existed on mobile networks. This smaller data lane had been used only to alert a cellphone about reception strength and to supply it with bits of information regarding incoming calls. ... Initially, Hillebrand's team could fit only 128 characters into that space, but that didn't seem like nearly enough. With a little tweaking and a decision to cut down the set of possible letters, numbers and symbols that the system could represent, they squeezed out room for another 32 characters.

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