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Cellphone Texting More Expensive Than Downloading Data From Hubble


Leicester (UK) - Here is an interesting math exercise that, if you are really into text messaging, can get you thinking twice whether you continue to use your SMS service or simply make a call next time. In a best case scenario, the comparison of the cost of text messaging is just another sign how overpriced these services are, at least when they aren’t included in a flat-fee plan.

We all know that text messaging isn’t cheap, so the news that you are getting ripped off by your cellphone provider for such a service isn’t new. However, Nigel Bannister, a space scientist at the University of Leicester came up with an interesting idea to compare the cost of text messages - he compared it to downloading data from the Hubble space telescope.

Based on the UK market, he took a cost of 5 pence per SMS and assumed that a user would always use the full capacity of each message - 160 characters. Since each character has just 7 bits, each message has a maximum of 140 bytes (160x7/8). The cost per megabyte, which holds 1,048,576 bytes, therefore comes to £374.49 (7490 text messages x 5 pence).

We took a quick look at the U.S. market and found that T-Mobile charges $0.15 per text message, which brings the per-megabyte price to a stunning $1,123.50. Yes, you can trim the cost by purchasing a (domestic) message bundle: T-Mobile charges $5 for 400 messages ($0.0125 per message), $10 for 1000 messages ($0.01 per message) and $15 for unlimited messages.

Bannister said that NASA told him that download 1 MB of data from Hubble costs about £8.85, or about $17. However, that cost only includes the transmission of the data to the first point of contact on the ground. So he made some assumptions what it may cost NASA to get this 1 MB of data into its computers and came up with a range of £8.85 to £85, which translates into a range of $17 to $166. Converted into a per text-message cost, Hubble transmissions would cost about 2.2 cents per message.

In any case, this per-megabyte comparison undercuts the text messaging rate by a far margin, unless you are not subscribing to an all-you-can-eat flat fee.

Yes, we know, it is a questionable comparison and only some of us are writing 250 or more text messages per day. But we are still left with a sensation that cellphone text messaging is a bit pricey.