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back to article SMS costs more than using Hubble Space Telescope

A British boffin has calculated that text messages are a horrendously expensive method of handling information, costing many times more than it does to access data from the Hubble Space Telescope. "Hubble is by no means a cheap mission," says Dr Nigel Bannister, a space scientist at the University of Leicester. "But mobile phone …

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Paris Hilton

What a load of rubbish!

Mobile phone companies are there to make money, not to provide a service AT cost. This coffee I have probably costs about 4pence if you break it down, I still have to pay £1.80 for it. Okay it's not a perfect comparison because one involves a little human interaction but come on, it's a business. Who expects them to provide it at cost?

Paris because she sends me SMS all the time!

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Unhappy

Ouch!

Yeah SMS messages are a huge con, but then so is the conventional cost of telephony.

The telecoms companies essentially have a license to print money.

I don't think anyone really predicted the success and popularity of SMS messages at its advent.

I rarely use SMS these days, often the messages turn into a long conversation costing much more than it would have been just to have a 2 minute conversation.

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This article must be a candidate ....

for the best subtitle ever.

Cheered up my morning, it did.

And as a bonus, now I can explain people why I do not use SMS.

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Old news

This was publicised a while back.

http://gthing.net/the-true-price-of-sms-messages/

The hubble thing is some clever but irrelevant maths. You would expect Hubble to be able to transmit large amounts of data relatively cheaply, otherwise what would the point be of having it up there? Whereas SMS messages are a consumer service, and therefore going to be charged at whatever the market will allow.

I could just as easily compare posting a 20-page letter containing 20,000 characters, and claim that the cost of the stamp made it cheaper than sending an SMS. But it's not the point, is it?

This is a no-news story.

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Happy

elTel

You need a new calculator Lewis - should be 50p, not 49 !

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Always knew it...

...that SMS and other "services" are pure rip-offs. Hence I use an antique mobile that doesn't do any of them... and I can tell everybody who ever felt intruded upon by SMS spam, overblown pricing and so on: It's a wonderful world without being constantly harassed by text messages saying, basically, nothing, with bad spelling and grammar to boot.

If somebody has something to tell me on the phone, they can talk. I've got two (2) ears ready to receive input. If people can't be bothered to give me a ring to talk to me in person, it can't be important enough for me to waste my time reading about it.

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Back in the good old days....

when the GSM explosion happened over here in the early/mid 90's, all SMS messages were free - after all they are pretty much come for free by the way they are transmitted on the network. Then, over a very short time, in turn each of the operators started charging for SMS messages. For a year or so, it was possible to get around this by changing the sms centre to foreign operators but even they started charging in the end.

Unless you are on 'pay as u go' you are unlikely to be charged per text now but for those of use who remember them free....

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Coat

Apples to Orange

OK, but in the Hubble case you are downloading a single file from a predictable location to a fixed point (assumption on my part). For SMSs, they are transmitting 7490 messages from 7490 different unpredictably moving sources to 7490 different unpredictably moving destinations.

And (probably more to the point) Hubble doesn't have a bunch of shareholders expecting a profit...

Title pun intentional. And it's warm out...

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Joke

You'll give NASA ideas

As soon as they realise they can profit from it, you'll get Hubble Plans... including one of the following for free every month:

25 picture messages

200 texts

60 minutes off-peak calls

If you go for the free calls, then among the silence of space you may faintly hear boffins laughing all the way to the bank...

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Paris Hilton

how do you price data?

no, but really, say I had a CAT5 lead running between two computers, how does one price up a pattern of 1's and 0's??

Obviously there is infrastructure costs but after the initial investment its only down to maintenance & running costs.

I'm inclined to think that this 'data pricing' is a load of old hoopla

the emperor has no clothes!!!

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Yes but...

I suppose three points here:

1) Who pays for texts now. Given the contract bundles that I've been using for almost the last 6 or seven years, (usually 500 texts a month) means that I've not paid for one in some time

2) The market will price it's products at what people will pay. Texting is very, very popular, even at the current price point. Does it matter that the cost to transport is nearly zero? After all it costs pence to stamp a CD, but that still sells for £12 or so.

3) Cost of infrastructure, 3G licenses and phone masts aren't free..

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Dead Vulture

Where's the "Rate it" button?

How come The Reg don't bother putting a "rate it" button on the really lame stories?

Grrrr. I'm deleting you from my bookmarks, etc. :-D

Bored.

Steve

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Jon

@ stizzleswick

yes they are a rip off but then I hate the normal telephone. As someone once said a telephone is like the annoying kid in the playground shouting "talk to me, talk to me, talk to me, talk to me, talktome, talktome". At least text is a bit more like email can be answered when I want.

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Black Helicopters

Does this mean..

he can expect a visit from the MIB's from vodafone or O2????

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Text messages are useless anyway.

When I started using computers to send messages, they had a proper keyboard.

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Stop

Boffin?

Why does this site, like many others, use Boffin to refer to scientists or technical specialist? It smacks of the tabloids and low rent channel 5 science shows. Come on, and use proper titles, it won't hurt and people will think better of you.

It's also the start of a slippery slope in tabloid-esque euphemisms, like the use of "guzzled", "feasted", "mocked", "tot" and "manhood".

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Rob

sms

are a con, I have free email and data with my phone, why should I then have a limit or further charges for sending poxy little 160 char message? I can send emails of unlimited size with pictures attached for nothing?! how does sms cost them more to provide? its simply a rip off they know they can get away with over and over and over again because 10p seems like a fairly small amount to pay for a convenience

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Apples and Pears

Rather missing the point I feel. As a comparison, using a bike to transport 10 tons of gravel 100 miles is inefficient when compared to using a tipper truck.

If that's the type of argument used to justify expenditure or show value of large science experiments then something's definitely wrong with the world.

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Short messaging service

OK so I can burn a DVD (what, 50p), put it in an envelope (5p) and post it from one side of the country to the other (for the sake of nice maths lets say 45p). £1 for 4.7 GB = approx 0.02p per megabyte, or (very approx) 0.00001p per 'SMS-worth'.

However, if I want to send thousands of short messages to separate people at different times, sending it by DVD is of course going to be very expensive (and why bother with the DVD when I could just write it on a postcard?)

It's called SHORT messaging service for a reason.

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Dead Vulture

Dodgy subheading: "harder to reach than distant galaxies"

Sending an SMS is much easier than getting data from HST.

SMS: whip phone out of pocket, aimlessly bang a few keys, send, a few moments later, blammo, the recipient has received and read it!

HST: First wait to apply for time on the telescope. Calls for proposals are issued roughly annually. Then apply for time on the telescope. Fill in lots of forms. Hope you are accepted, as competition is extremely intense (ratio of time requested to time available is between 6 and 9). Assuming you're accepted, now you need to get your data to the satellite. Maybe you need to wait for the HST to be in the right bit of the sky. Now, wait until the HST is in the right bit of sky. Take readings. Repeat as required; cycles maybe only 45 minutes, or maybe a year. OK, job done! Now get the data from the telescope to the ground. You migt need to wait for HST to be in the right bit of sky again, and for a slot to download in. There's all those un-named "various other steps necessary to get Hubble data into the hands of scientists"...

Which is easier?

I like the rest of the article though, price comparisons per MB :)

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Isn't this is typical C4 journalism??

The basis for their argument being that it is more expensive to transmit a text message than it is to receive information from Hubble, right? Surely that argument is totally flawed on the basis that anyone with an ounce of technical prowess understands that it is more expensive to transmit then receive.

This is why you get GPS on your Sat Nav without subscription!

Considering that it doesn't cost you over £300 to receive a MB of text messages, I think everyone should stop complaining otherwise mobile phone companies can move us onto the US pricing strategy where you get charged to receive too!!

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Go

Free Texting...

Ah, Sluggy. You remind me of when I was working @ O2 (OK, Cellnet, as was - before BT Cellnet, and before O2) back in 95-03 when our call centre operators (the guys you got when you dialled 100 - none of this "press 1 for this, 2 for that", either!) used to tell our punters about foreign SMS Centre numbers cos they used them themselves! Before the bloody management got wind of it...!

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Cross network

I think some people are forgetting the fact that there are charges for an SMS crossing networks..

Sending an email isn't free... if you didn't pay your ISP then you wouldn't be able to send/receive those emails. And yes I know you could use free wifi but then you can find free BT SMS stations in most major cities now.

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Missing the point.

Does El Reg ever have a bunch of pedantic, nit-picking, humourless whiners amongst its readers??!

Oh FFS people, the Hubble comparison was obviously added to get headlines, capture attention, and add a little dry humour. It wasn't meant to be taken seriously/literally. But that doesn't mean the original article is crap, though: It ALSO includes a comparison to 3G data costs. Now please tell me how that is irrelevant to the discussion, I dare ya.

This is the same as how someone once pointed out that ink-jet ink is 7x more expensive per liter than the most expensive champagne in the world. Cue whiners telling us how you can't compare something you drink to something you use to selectively colour paper. ::roll eyes::

And yes, I know I'm also a whiner (or some other word starting with 'W') - I'm whining about the whiners. But my own hypocrisy has never bothered me much. :-)

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Unhappy

Complete and utter nonsense

What complete and utter codswallop.

Firstly how can you compare the cost of sending data to a satellite in space to sending a text message between two mobile handsets using two legs of licensed and paid for radio interface plus a series of platforms to store, forward and bill which in many cases have cost billions of pounds to build and rollout and need to be recovered somehow. Scientists don't need to recover the money spent on building large telescopes because they are in the interest of science, I suspect the Telcos only wished that were true for them.

Secondly the comparison cost is taking a retail rate of 5p that has both margin and VAT built into it, not forgetting that many operators are now offering unlimited texts implying it costs next to nothing to send an SMS.

Thirdly you would never send MBs of data over SMS, you would use GPRS/UMTS/HSDPA/WIFI etc to do that and given you can now get gigabytes of allowance for as little as £5 per month that also suggests the relative costs are low.

Flawed research doesn't even cover it. Glad someone's money has been put to good use on this...not.

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Paris Hilton

come on the article is not that bad

Wow people really attacking The Register today.

Nothing wrong with this piece at all. I found it amusing for the cost of SMS to be compared with data transfer from the Hubble.

What is with moaning about reffering to scientists as Boffin? That’s the way its done on here and thats the way it should be. (Don't you read BOFH?) Next you will be complaining about reffering to accountants as Bean Counters.

What next.... want to take our Paris Hilton icon off us?

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Coat

Boffing

The farts in the news media always use lowest common denominators.

Not because they want to get the message out to the lowest common denom but because it saves text time. You just plug in the needed catch phrase and the rest is done on computer.

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Anonymous Coward

Why is it never Beer? It's always whine, whine, whine.

Look at this as two separate issues.

Not only has the stupid pricing of SMS's been highlighted, it's also told you how much NASA charges to give you data from Hubble.

Any day in which you learn something, is not wasted.

In addition to that - having seen some of the machines that are handling SMS throughput in telcom sites, the infrastructure that is SMS "specific" is bloody minimal. Even MMS infrastructure for <x> was only 3 racks containing about 8 servers - and that could have been reduced to fewer if the app design people hadn't been moronic.

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Useless Article

Tabloid claptrap headline. Yes there's and article to be written about the costs of mobile phone and data systems, distortions in pricings. However, it's not this sort of lazy journalism quoting a publicity seeking academic on an irrelevant comparison using primary school arithmetic. Yes, and it hasn't been a good day so far whilst you are asking.

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Stop

Hang on a second Stephen...

I've gone back and read the article again, I don't actually see anywhere that suggests that mobile phone companies are firstly not in it to make money, or that they should be required or urged to provide a service such as SMS at cost price.

That would be rediculous to suggest in itself as the companies as you quite rightly point out are businesses and is in it to make money.

What does stand up though is quite clear, the sheer amount of money made and the markup on the system doing the work is quite fraknly insane. I had a thought like this years ago when I was paying 10p a text message from my provider and had just got my spanking new 1Mbit DSL installed at home. (256Kb/s upload as it was at the time).

I worked out that for the £40 I was paying over the period of the month I could potentially upload 685670400Kbits of data or 85GBytes of information (85708800KBytes) if the line was fully utilsed a max capacity.

256*60(minute)*60(Hour)*24(Days)*31(Average days in a month)

/8 to get from Kbits to KBytes.

Now I know that limitations such as outages etc would account for this being a little inaccurate but its a theoretical maximum.

This means per month, if you were to just use the line PURELY for uploading it would cost you 47p a GByte or 0.00046p per megabyte. Now I have a 1.3Mbit upload on my line instead of 256K so we can again cut that cost into a 1/5th.

See where I'm going now? Compared to the £374.49 per MB purely to send the data through the air via SMS this is amazing that it is tolerated. Also considering the fact I pay 10p for a text, that figure then doubles to £740 per MB.

This is why I use instant messengers.

Mobile phones and text messaging are an insane rip off, the price of a text message should be cut to maximum 1p or go even further and make them free for incestives on contracts, as many providers have done.

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u get wot u pay 4........

However, in this case, you get very little it cost a lot.

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Paris Hilton

Are 'bundled text messages' free?

What the beancounter says:

£10 for 50 minutes of voice calls

£5 for 100 text messages

How the salesman spins it:

£15 for 50 minutes of voice calls

AND 100 FREE TEXT MESSAGES!

Why do people think they get 'free minutes'? The model may not be as simplistic as suggested above but it will be about increasing revenue in some format. You will pay for them somehow.

Paris, because she also likes to share her data for free.

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bless

How many people who have commented so far work for 02 or vodaphone etc. All you who say "rubbish, it's codswallop" sounds to me like you have a vested interest in supporting your monopoly of choice.

The article just highlights some costs in a study done at a university which make interesting reading. That is what people do at universities, resarch, into things that have do or will affect us.

You can't argue or deny it as the study is about data transfer and cost, nothing else is implied. So claiming "this" and "that" is just piffle and filler or of course supporting your own ideologies or vested interests.

And criticising an IT news website about reporting on an IT news article that affects everyone who reads this is just a little weird.

I like the article as it supports just how much profit these companies make for essentially doing very little now. The infra structure is there, the years of paying have seen to that, 97 % of the country at a guess. So what else do they spend their money on?

Licences? That is one possible scenario, but then costs of that is determined by competition and the government, if they all didn't want to pay then it wouldn't have cost that, so their costs all went to their belief we want TV on our mobiles. (given TV is shite I don't see that taking off)

So what is the profits for now? We can't add to the already overfilled infrastructure, Certainly not lower prices, It isn't something like added fuel costs or increased staffing levels. (Seen any 02 recruitment drives, or Orange asking for more staff?"

So it has to be share holders and keeping their monopoly. None of that has a thing to do with a university lecturer saying it costs more to send an sms than it does for hubble to report back.

Bearing in mind on the continent (Denmark in particular) all mobile companies charge flat rates, cheaper flat rates regardless of network or times. It's only our bygone era of competition and monopolies that require stupid fixed pricing and odd bill structures.

Rip of Britain at its finest.

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Anonymous Coward

TV Rip off..

I'm sure I saw this on telly a few weeks back, the boffin in question was actually televised. He didn't look odd, so I assume he's not very clever.

The rest of the story on telly was pointing out that it's sometimes cheaper to make a voice call than send an SMS. Missing the point that an SMS is a maskable interupt whereas a voice call isn't.

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Paris Hilton

MMS messaging

At about double or triple the cost of SMS messages; MMS (100k) messages are over 700 times larger than SMS (140byte) messages.

MMS messages (AKA Picture messaging) can go to over 300K between most opperators.

But by the time you've typed in 384K of War and Peace in TXT SPK your thumbs will be quite a bit shorter.

Paris, because she knows how to send picture messages, as the world found out 3 years ago...

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Price of chocolate

Here's another similarly-unhelpful comparison:

I visited CERN a few weeks ago, and was told that the ATLAS experiment cost less, per kg, than Swiss chocolate.

I was also told that it weighed more than the Eiffel Tower. But not by the same person.

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Replacement costs

My mobe (Supermeerkat -- we do have standards to maintain) cost very little. I'm not entirely sure I can afford to replace a Hubble.

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@ stizzleswick

You are a liar. There is no digital mobile phone available that doesn't support SMS.

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@Jon

If I don't want to be disturbed, I switch the phone off... no more nasty ringing phone while eating, driving, reading... ;-)

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DR

mutually exclusive facts

And according to the pastafarians global warming is caused by the reduction in the number of pirates in the world.

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Black Helicopters

SMS to Hubble

I tried sending Hubble an SMS to download pics at 410.338.4444 (number from http://hubblesite.org/contact_us/)

It doesn't work; maybe the dots got in the way.

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Linux

Popular Article and Tom Richardson

Wow! Look at all these strange new people who are getting pissy. This article must be showing up everywhere. That's cool and some of these responses are cute.

@Tom - "You are a liar. There is no digital mobile phone available that doesn't support SMS."

You are incorrect.

There are several digital phones (older) that don't support SMS. My LG phone doesn't. There was a time when the wireless companies catered to the needs of the consumer and all phones didn't support SMS.

On top of that you shouldn't call people liars unless you know they are lying, not just ignorant or incorrect. Dickhead.

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SMS

Heh. I did the calculations, and even here in Mexico the rate translates to roughly 5p (well, 4.9p actually), in local currency that's MXN $1.

However, most PAYG schemes charge MXN $4.50/minute for local calls (22p) so guess what: most people usually prefer sending one or two SMS for quick stuff. Those of us with contracts usually get local calls at SMS pricing (MXN $1/minute) however, so those of us who did go into contract usually talk more. Of course, my Blackberry service includes free unlimited data transfer (as long as I don't use the APN though) so I use even more email and IM's for most communication. Of course, this only works if the other dude has a BB or is near a computer ...

Anyway, SMS do have their use. And as some other user mentioned, it is less invasive than an actual phone call.

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Unhappy

SMS now the equivalent of HP printer ink...

SMS costs are starting to piss me off, that's for sure.

I actually started wondering what the data transmission costs were the other day when perusing my bill. Made me think of the comparisons of HP printer ink and Dom Perignon that I remeber seeing a while back. Of course not a valid comparison, but it does make you think about how badly you are getting shafted.

When I first started with SMS support, it cost $.02 to recieve a message - and I didn't mind getting dinged a few pennies. Verizon has been raising that, and just bumped it to $.20. Ouch. I don't see any justification for an increase in costs.

It's been a bad time for my wife to suddenly discover this feature of her phone...

I suspect this is to try to force people into service upgrades, so even the occasional user is having to pay $10-15 a month per phone more to get on a plan that includes TXT, or get dinged per message at the exorbanant rate. They also just took away the $5/month SMS add-on that would have been good for the occasional user - so the minimum upgrade is $10/month/phone, some options run more.

And to upgrade both phones on my plan level to include unlimited TXT will take the monthly base nut from $70 to $100, a 43% increase for the ability to send a bunch of short illegible messages to other phones. Not a great deal, but I may be forced into it.

I even went as far as starting to shop around for other carriers, but they all had pretty much the same deal. No collaboration in a competitive market, right?

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The purest form of profit ever invented

was a quote used from a 'founder of vodafone'

While there has to be a profit margin, 10p a message is a bit excessive, why not 4 or 5p as it cant cost them that much to carry the data.

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RW
Coat

Boffins

Please engage your sense of humor before reading El Reg's comments re boffins and boffinry.

Thank you.

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Alternative solution to SMS pricing

@Tim Beeber

Rather than pay an extra $20/month to get spam, you could consider the one-time charge (may be waived under some circumstances by Verizon) to simply disable SMS on your phones. They will whinge about it, and point out how you will be missing out on the opportunity to be spammed by them (er, missing out on valuable offers related to new service options), but they will do it, or at least they did, a year ago, for my sister.

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Stop

@Tom Richardson

"You are a liar. There is no digital mobile phone available that doesn't support SMS."

Mark what I said in my first post: I am using an antique. If you want to look it up, it's a Motorola 5300 e+. Made in 1993. And yes, it's digital. And no, it does not support SMS. Those were introduced to at the network I was using back then in 1995, and were only supported starting with the 7300 and later, which was offered the same year.

Please: Check your facts before calling people liars.

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Dr Nigel Bannister is correct about SMS costs. Now, what about the exploitation by telcos?

Dr Nigel Bannister is correct to say that SMS costs more than using Hubble Space Telescope!

I reckon his calculations are ballpark as they echo my own similar experience when as far back as 1999 I did a rough comparison between the costs[1] of local SMS messages and that of NASA receiving messages from its Voyager spacecraft billions of kilometers away.

My calculations show that on a byte-for-byte basis it cost kids several orders of magnitude more money to send [to text] a single character across a schoolroom than it does for NASA to receive the same message from its Voyager spacecraft as they approach the heliosheath--that boundary where edge of the solar system gives way to deep space some fourteen billion kilometers from earth.

The SMS service was originally devised as a quick and dirty maintenance channel for field use by technical staff to adjust and maintain mobile telephone networks--not for general use by subscribers. Well, that was until the telcos realised they were sitting on a goldmine and they could ACTUALLY sell the SMS service to subscribers. Moreover, this twee, almost-unacceptable, almost-unusable and awkward communications system with its strange and kluged way of keying in messages, was extremely easy to sell to a remarkably gullible and unquestioning public who lapped SMS up no matter what outrageous and extortionate price the telcos charged. For the telcos, SMS was the telecommunications equivalent of heroin, the public, world wide, became addicted overnight.

Had SMS been initially planned as a consumer service then it would have been much more extensive than it now is. The telcos just couldn't believe their luck: for almost negligible establishment costs they've made billions. And, on a dollar-for-effort basis, they've made even more money than Bill Gates and Microsoft.

Moreover, the world's telcos are all very aware of the SMS goldmine they're sitting on. Thus, they're forever engaged in seemingly competitive SMS price wars which, in reality, just oscillate or nibble around an artificial and outrageously high price. No telco is wiling to enter into true price completion in the SMS arena, and no telco wants the secret SMS oligopoly to be exposed. The stakes are enormous.

The tragedy of SMS is that governments, regulators and consumer advocates let these miserable telecommunications carpetbaggers get away with such huge exploitation, it was on such a grand scale. In the broader sense, SMS pricing--which ought to have been included in the base subscriber price with no charge for messages (as the bandwidth is so negligible)--can be seen as another consumer casualty in the worldwide headlong rush that was telecommunications deregulation.

Matters, too, were made worse when governments also divested themselves of their telecommunications regulators and engineers, as governments no longer had easy access to professional and independent technical advice (they would have picked up the SMS scam then referred it on for the drafting of appropriate lemon laws and consumer protection legislation).

SMS and its pricing is truly an amazing phenomena. One day when we eventually realise the huge extent to which the consumer has been deceived and conned over SMS, it will go down in history as a quintessential example of what happens when the synergies of corporate greed, marketing propaganda and deception, consumer gullibility and the new and strange addiction of SMS messaging come together. It's what happens when all involved are blinded and mesmerised by technology's new and pretty baubles bangles and beads. With SMS, it is as if the Pied Piper had really come this time.

What is urgently needed now is to expose this SMS pricing sham once and for all. I call on whistleblowers, insiders and those of us who still posses a modicum of rationality and who understand the issues, to leak and expose true and quantifiable figures (not guesstimates) about SMS installation and running costs and the extent to which the public has been deceived and extorted over the years. This information can then be used to force regulators and legislators to act.

___

[1] At the time, my reason for the calculation was in response to my then unit manager who suggested we use SMS to replace regular telephone conversations. Responding I'd said that SMS is, at best, a clumsy, slow and an inefficient means of communication but he remained insistent but he then dropped the idea when the costs of SMS were compared to that of Voyager's communications.)

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Coat

The Home Office missed a trick then...

Surely in the wake of the 'lost CDs' debacle they should have claimed that they were simply attempting to send data more cheaply than it would've been had they texted all of the individual records to their destination.

Putting CDs/DVDs in the post has to be even more cost efficient in terms of £-per-MB than using the HST to send the information to a third party and, as a 'double bonus' it even allowed them to send a whole lot of additional un-requested, yet highly sensitive, data bundled in for free; you wouldn't have got that with SMS or the HST!

If only this research had been available at the time, we would all have been praising the Home Office and commiserating them on their bad luck... Wouldn't we?

Mine's the one with sarcasm written all over it.

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