SMS vs WhatsApp Business Platform: Which is better?

Topic: Marketing, WhatsApp
Image of a person sending a message from their phone

SMS and WhatsApp are two of the world’s biggest messaging channels. How do the two compare? Which is better for your business? Read on to find out more…

WhatsApp and SMS are two of the world’s biggest messaging channels. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering 92% of the world own mobile phones and 86% own smartphones. Both channels are extensive in their reach and boast impressive engagement rates. So, which is better? How do the two compare?

Here’s an overview of the two products and their pros and cons to help you decide on the best approach for your organisation.

What is SMS?

Short Message Service, also known as SMS, is a service that allows for short text messages to be exchanged between mobile devices. Every mobile phone has the native ability to send SMS messages. All you need to be able to send and receive a text is a valid phone number and a mobile contract. 

What is WhatsApp?

From a consumer’s perspective, WhatsApp is the free app that people use to stay in touch with friends and family – one-on-one or via group chats. Send messages, voice notes, images, links, GIFs, documents, and have phone and video calls.

For businesses, there are two options:

  • WhatsApp Business – the free app that’s popular among small to medium businesses and used for ad-hoc customer service and micro marketing campaigns.
  • WhatsApp Business Platform – the solution medium to large businesses use for mass marketing and messaging campaigns, global customer service, and more.

Read about the different types of WhatsApp in more detail here.

TL;DR: SMS vs WhatsApp

No need for an internet connection Requires an internet connection – whether that’s mobile data or a WiFi connection
No need for a smartphoneRequires a smartphone
No need for an extra app – all phones come with built-in messaging capabilitiesRequires an app to be downloaded
Average open rate is up to 98% and conversion rate is 29%Average open rate is up to 99% and conversion rate is typically between 45 and 60%
Any industry can use SMSCertain industries are prohibited from using the platform 
160 character count limit4,096 character count limit, which equates to around 500 words
Ability to have two-way conversations isn’t built in – you need a virtual mobile numberTwo-way chats are available to every WhatsApp account. No virtual mobile number needed!
No end-to-end encryption – sensitive info should never be communicated via SMSEnd-to-end encryption so sensitive info can be shared. 
No authenticity checksMeta will verify the authenticity of every business account on WhatsApp Business Platform
No brandingBranded profile, plus the opportunity to become an Official Business Account (green tick)
Can send rich content (a URL that links to a landing page), but it’s mostly plain textSupports a rich messaging experience – send images, videos, interactive buttons within your messages and more.

Ready to dive deeper into the similarities and differences between SMS and WhatsApp? Keep reading! We also have a comparison sheet which you can check out here if you’re short on time and want to read while on the go.

Operating requirements

Reliance on an internet connection

SMS is available to any device with a working mobile network connection. There’s no need for an internet connection. 

WhatsApp, on the other hand, requires an active internet connection, whether that’s WiFi or mobile/cellular data. If your recipients experience internet issues, this can be challenging if you’re sending time-critical alerts via WhatsApp Business Platform.


Recipients must download the WhatsApp app if they’re going to receive messages via this platform. Not all mobile phones support WhatsApp – only smartphones do and even then, there are some older smartphones that no longer support the app. 

SMS, however, does not require a smartphone. In fact, all mobile devices come with built-in messaging capabilities so there’s no need to download an app to receive SMS messages.


Compared to other channels, both SMS and WhatsApp boast high open and conversion rates. For SMS, the average open rate is up to 98% and conversion rate is 29% compared to email’s 21% and 2%, respectively.

And WhatsApp Business Platform has one of the highest engagement rates of all channels, with an open rate of up to 99% and a conversion rate that averages between 45 and 60%. 

Character limit

With SMS, you have just 160 characters to capture your recipient’s attention and entice them to take action. This is approximately 1-3 sentences. If your message is longer than 160 characters, it will be sent as a separate message.

WhatsApp has a more generous character count limit. You have up to 4,096 characters, which equates to around 500 words. In comparison to SMS’s 160 characters (1-3 sentences), this gives you more flexibility to grab and capture attention.

Features & functionality


From CTA buttons to images, videos and audio, WhatsApp Business Platform’s rich features help you create more engaging experiences for your recipients. While you can also send rich content in SMS (e.g. via a link to a landing page), with WhatsApp, recipients will not need to click on a link to view these features.

Want to learn more about the top WhatsApp Business Platform features that can help improve customer experience? Explore our blog post here.


Two-way communication allows your messages to feel more like a conversation, rather than a notification. Two-way chats are available to every WhatsApp account where your business can have both user and business-initiated conversations. No virtual mobile number needed!

This isn’t the case for SMS, however. If you want your customers to be able to reply to you you’ll need a virtual mobile number as this feature doesn’t come as standard with SMS.

Use cases

Thanks to their high engagement rate, SMS and WhatsApp are great channels for a wide range of use cases, including:

  • Notifications and reminders – from order and delivery updates to booking reminders, both SMS and WhatsApp can be used to keep your customers in the loop. For time-sensitive ones, SMS could be a better option or used as a fallback if your recipients don’t have an internet connection or access to WhatsApp.
  • Feedback requests – did you know that a third of consumers are more likely to complete surveys sent via SMS and WhatsApp than any other channel (e.g. email)? These surveys could be to gauge customer satisfaction, gather market research, or to collect staff feedback.
  • One time passcodes and security alerts – SMS, in particular, is a very reliable channel to send OTPs, especially as every mobile device can receive text messages. However, WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption, making this channel more suitable for sending sensitive information.
  • Customer support – both SMS and WhatsApp are excellent channels to have natural conversations with customers. In particular, WhatsApp allows for two-way messaging, whether it’s via a chatbot or a human agent.
  • Marketing and sales – with an open rate of up to 99%, SMS and WhatsApp can be even more effective than alternative channels (e.g. email) when it comes to sending marketing messages, driving web traffic and boosting sales. Thanks to its rich features, WhatsApp may be more ideal for stimulating engagement.

Learn More: SMS marketing: How to tap into the power of SMS


When you use WhatsApp Business Platform, you can brand your WhatsApp profile by, for example, uploading your logo as your profile picture or updating your description to feature your slogan. 

You even have the chance to become an Official Business Account (green verified tick etc), which can further boost customer trust. Even if you aren’t an OBA, your recipients can be safe in the knowledge that they’re speaking to a legitimate business and not a user pretending to be one, which helps to boost trust.

This is because Meta verifies the authenticity of every business account on WhatsApp Business Platform. Once verified, your business name will be visible, even if recipients haven’t added you to their address book. 

These features aren’t available in SMS.


End-to-end encryption

Whether it’s P2P (person to person) or ATP (application to person), SMS messages are not end-to-end encrypted. This lack of security measures means sensitive information should never be communicated via SMS.

WhatsApp, however, offers end-to-end encryption which means only the sender and recipient can see what was exchanged between them. Even Meta cannot access these conversations. This means you can safely share sensitive information via WhatsApp Business Platform. 


Any industry can use SMS. There are no restrictions on which industries can use SMS to contact their customers. For WhatsApp, on the other hand, certain industries are prohibited from using the platform. 

While most can use WhatsApp Business Platform, Meta has specific industry standards that prohibit certain industries from being allowed on the platform.

SMS vs WhatsApp Business Platform: Which is better?

At first glance, it may seem as though WhatsApp Business Platform has more benefits. Looking slightly closer, you may start to wonder whether SMS is better because this channel doesn’t rely on an internet connection and is compatible with all types of mobile phones. 

Plus, more people have a mobile phone compared to a smartphone. So, SMS has a (slightly) wider reach, which is better. Right?

Truthfully, the two channels are equally great in different ways. Thus, the best approach may be to use both SMS and WhatsApp Business Platform to cast the widest net possible and engage with customers via a variety of message types.

SMS may have a wider reach and arguably be better known, but WhatsApp Business Platform offers richer functionalities. SMS can be better for simple alerts and notifications, but WhatsApp Business Platform is better for engaging interactions and having conversations. 

For example, an appointment reminder can be as simple as a plain text message that states the time and date of the appointment. Or it can be as elaborate as a CTA button linked to your healthcare provider’s booking system to reschedule and a location pin in addition to the time and date.

Use both channels and you can connect with your customers in a range of ways.

To learn more about the similarities and differences between SMS and WhatsApp Business Platform, plus real-life applications, check out our comparison sheet below.

Author Avatar
Laura Haynes

Hey I'm Laura, UK&I Marketing Manager at Esendex 👋 I enjoy developing and implementing marketing strategies and campaign experiences that create brand awareness and drive revenue by winning, growing and retaining engaged customers.