Texting more expensive than Hubble Telescope

April 26th, 2008

An interesting article in the newspaper today about the extortionate costs of sending SMS text messages.

Orion Nebula - new image from Hubble & Spitzer
Creative Commons License photo: Mr. Physics

A typical SMS text message contains up to 160 characters and costs 10p. As each character takes up one byte*, the SMS message costs 10p for 160 bytes or £625 per megabyte. Of course, most people don’t use the full 160 characters most of the time so the cost could be closer to £1,000 per megabyte.

To compare this, NASA pays just £84 per megabyte to receive and process data from the Hubble Space Telescope which is located 600km above the Earth. This means UK consumers are paying roughly 10x as much to send our SMS text messages as it costs NASA to receive some fantastic images from outer space.

To be fair to the phone companies, you can transfer data for £2 per MB (capped at £1 per day on some networks).

You can also save absolutely shed loads of money by shopping around. Lots of companies now offer free texts – both on Pay As You Go tariffs and Pay Monthly tariffs. We’ve got a list of all the free Pay As You Go SIM card offers, many of whom offer free texts with a top up. If you’re considering a contract, several networks are offering unlimited texts from just £5/month.

* More accurately, texts are encoded in such a way that each character takes 7 bits. So a 160-character text message only takes up 140 bytes. Of course, this pushes the price per MB even closer up to £1000/MB.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 8 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. qieshiah said:

    Hello guys i’m pondering to get a brand new telescope iexplored all over cow.neondragon.net yet i discovered practically nothing, do you have any kind of suggestion on which telescope i should invest on? any good reviews?

  2. neonDragon said:

    O2 isn’t too bad when you get things like unlimited texts, but for my needs, T-Mobile’s Flext 20 + web ‘n’ walk tarrif is super (for about £20/month at the moment as I phoned up and threatened to leave).

    Lets face it, mobile networks aren’t going to charge less until some kind of alternative appears. However, I get unlimited internet usage (2GB fair usage, but only enforced if you go over 2GB twice in two consecutive months). Internet is the main thing I use my phone for, either on the phone or using the phone to connect to the internet on my MacBook over Bluetooth (you’re supposed to pay for a more expensive web ‘n’ walk plan in order to use the service as a modem, but, ssh). When I have a wi-fi signal I use the SIP client (through sipgate.co.uk) on my Nokia E90 to make calls at BT rates, or to call most other SIP users for free (of which I only have one in my contact list so far).

    Roaming still costs a bomb, though. 2.8MB of internet usage in Australia cost me £24. That was used by just connecting to IRC once and checking email on Optus — strangely I’ve also got usage via Telstra logged on the T-Mobile website but 0MB worth, phew. It’s really outrageously expensive to roam currently.

    I get the feeling that from a business standpoint, unlimited internet plans only exist currently on T-Mobile, Vodafone and 3 due to the threat of Wi-Fi. If more access points appear it could be feasable to have a Wi-Fi connection pretty much anywhere in a city, and for the phone networks it’s not internet that they’re worried about people using, it’s making phone calls over SIP instead of their own super expensive tarrifs.

    SIP would work over the 3G HSDPA connection on my phone, but T-Mobile purposefully block it to force you to make calls on the T-Mobile tarrif.

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