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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.

  • I guess it seems like a bit of a stretch at first, but they've included such a large margin for error that I think the point is still well made and their statement as a whole regarding the Hubble is probably true. SMS is probably a pretty good cash cow.

    On the other hand, anyone who has experience with wireless equipment on towers knows that the costs of land/tower leases, carrier grade equipment, labor (OSHA compliance at several hundred feet in the air), maintenance, insurance, regulatory costs, cable, power, cranes, equipment enclosures (some climate controlled...yikes), spectrum licenses, and later upgrades...these costs really are HUGE even for just a few towers.

    Not to mention that the connections between cell phones and cellular networks don't quite have the bandwidth capacity that high-speed ISPs and even WISPs enjoy on the pipes to their users, and the transfer of 1MB is a much bigger deal than you'd perceive if you don't take that into consideration.
  • sandmanwn
    This was rather useless... The point of the per message price is for users that rarely sms anyone. Those people will never reach the $10 mark for the plan above it or the $15 plan above that, so saying that its theoretical maximum is $1,123.50 or £374.49 is moot. If you actually used that much a simple phone call to your carrier to upgrade to the next plan is simple enough especially if you expect to have a sudden rash of text messaging syndrome. Thats why most carriers give you a number to dial free of charge to check your limits and balances.

    So, what was the point??? If you are really really stupid and choose the least effective plan... you might just bury yourself in a phone bill. Thats pretty much a no brainer for just about everyone after they get that first $200.00 phone bill.