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SMS Prices Higher Than Mars Transmissions Costs
Yet the Public Keeps Paying for It....
by Karl Bode 10:16AM Wednesday Nov 28 2012
There has been no limit to the number of folks that have pointed out that SMS is an obnoxious and bloated cash cow, carriers charging a fortune for a simple 160 character, 140 byte message, despite it costing them virtually nothing to send (as it travels along an always live tower control channel). That realization is usually followed by people pointing out that carriers charge this because people are stupid enough to continue paying for it, even with the rise of alternative mobile IM platforms like Google Voice or iMessage.

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The latest outrage over SMS pricing comes courtesy of Rick Falkvinge, the founder of Sweden's Pirate Party, who points out that the cost of sending a text message is greater than what it costs to send the same message from Mars to Earth. His math:
The cost of the Mars Global Surveyor probe was roughly 200 million USD for the satellite and launch, plus 20 million per year. So, 400 million USD. It operated for nine years, transmitting at an assumed average of 42,667 bps. Assuming it transmitted 24/7, that comes down to 42,667 × 3,600 × 24 × 365 × 9 / 8 / 1,024 / 1,024 / 1,024 = 1,410 gigabytes of data at a cost of 400 million dollars, or roughly 284,000 US dollars per gigabyte. That number includes the cost of the actual Mars probe and its launch, as well as the cost of the NASA crew handling its journey to Mars for almost a year before it started transmitting.

The charge for sending an SMS text message next door is about 5 USD cents (let’s use the same currency for simpliticy’s sake). Each text message is 160 140 bytes. This means that there are 1,024 × 1,024 × 1,024 / 140 = 7.67 million text messages per gigabyte. Multiplying this number by 0.05 gives us that the traffic charge when sending an SMS text message next door is 383,000 US dollars per gigabyte.
Falkvinge goes on to insist this is a total failure of the free market (carriers of course argue the exact opposite), recommending that phone companies need "to be politically restrained with a complete absence of humor." The piece doesn't mention that SMS as a cash cow is slowly dying (even if it's taking longer for that reality to reach the United States). With SMS and voice being simply supplanted by data, the industry is now offering unlimited SMS pricing if users sign up for new family shared data plans. Still, carriers will get their pound of flesh one way or another, most simply jacking up the price of LTE data to keep your end bill the same.

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Binghamton, NY

2 recommendations

reply to Telco

Re: Pricing

said by Telco:

The reality that we now have a choice of 20 cents or $20 on AT&T for example, shows that it's time for the gov to step in.

Yes, because text messages are a life essential service, and we clearly need Government intervention so Lil Suzy can afford to text her friends Shakespearean gems like "4 ll u hu tlk bout me, tnx 4 makin ME D ctr of ur wrld!"