Have you ever wondered about what actually happens to a text message when the receiver’s phone is turned off?
Where does the message go? Will it be delivered when their phone is turned back on, and how long will it take after that? How do the carriers actually handle this sort of thing?
These are all fantastic questions. In this article, we’ll be covering all of this and more!
What Happens To A Text Message When The Receiver’s Phone Is Off?
When a person’s phone is turned off, text messages are unable to be delivered to them. So, in these instances, what actually happens?
First things first, it’s important to understand that the message will be delivered if the phone is turned back on within a reasonable period of time, as long as it is a standard SMS message. I’ll talk more about iMessage and other internet-based messaging services later, but for the most part, you can safely assume that the message will still be delivered.
Anyhow, when an SMS text message is sent, it is routed through your carrier until it is delivered to the other person’s phone. When your carrier attempts to deliver it and the phone is off, they will ‘hold onto the message’ until it can be delivered – at least for a period of time.
Think about a postal worker delivering letters. Let’s pretend they needed to personally hand someone a letter, but when they went to knock on the door, nobody answered.
Now, let’s pretend they keep periodically knocking until someone finally answers the door, for up to a week. Either they will finally reach someone, or they will give up and destroy the letter.
This is similar to how cellular providers deliver texts – they will keep attempting to redeliver it until they’re successful, or the ‘attempted redelivery period’ expires.
So, as long as someone turns their phone back on and connects to their provider’s network within a reasonable time, they will ultimately get the message!
The Attempted Redelivery Period For Different Providers
As mentioned earlier, your cellular provider will only hold onto text messages for a certain window of time, before discarding the message completely.
If this period passes, you will need to attempt to send the message again.
Thankfully, the period is much longer than necessary for most people – since most people turn their phone on at least once per day.
For reference, here are the attempted redelivery periods for the four largest carriers in the United States:
AT&T: 3 days
Verizon: 5 days
T-Mobile: 7 days
Sprint: 7 days
Note that Sprint has now merged into T-Mobile.
What About iMessage?
Now that we’ve covered what happens to regular SMS text messages, let’s talk about iMessage.
iMessage – and other messaging services that send your messages over the internet (rather than through your cellular provider), act differently. So, Google’s messaging system falls under this category as well.
Instead of holding and attempting to redeliver your messages, one of two things will happen.
First, it’s possible that the message will go out, and it will simply state that it’s been ‘sent’, but not delivered. Messages update to ‘delivered’ when they actually arrive on the recipient’s phone, which won’t happen until their phone is turned back on and they reconnect to the internet.
However, it’s also possible that the sender’s phone will simply show an error, stating that the message could not be sent.
On iPhones for example, Apple will give you the option to try resending the message as a text instead, when the iMessage couldn’t be delivered.
This is usually a good idea. While you can try resending it as an iMessage, sending it as a text instead will ensure that the carrier continuously tries to redeliver it throughout their redelivery period.
Hopefully, this means it will actually be delivered when the receiver turns their phone back on again.
Other Web-Based Services May Act Differently, Too
Other web-based services also act differently – both in good and in bad ways, depending on the service.
For example, Facebook Messenger will store the messages you send on their server indefinitely, most of the time. This essentially means that the ‘redelivery period’ for a Facebook Messenger message is infinite. They will simply store it on their servers, and then mark it as delivered as soon as the other person logs back onto their Facebook Messenger account.
Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Skype, Discord – most services operate in a similar way.
However, some services will simply state that the message couldn’t be delivered to the other person.
In these instances, you should save a copy of the message and attempt to resend it later, when they’re likely to have an internet connection. The service usually will not attempt to redeliver it, so it will be up to you send the message again in the future.
Note: If you are blocked, the other user has restricted you from messaging them, or they’ve deleted their account, most services will be unable to deliver messages as well.
If a text message is unable to be delivered for any reason – whether the person doesn’t have service, their phone is in airplane mode, or the device is turned off, it will be held by your cellular provider to be delivered later.
For most providers, the total amount of time a text will be held is 3-7 days. If the message can’t be delivered in that time period, the message is discarded and will need to be resent. Note that online-based services like iMessage or Facebook Messenger may act differently, however.
I hope that this article answers all of your questions. If you have any other questions about texting or cell phones, ask them below and I’ll try to help!
Wishing you the best,
– James McAllister