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Cellphones Space The Almighty Buck

SMS 4x More Expensive Than Data From Hubble 410

paradoxSpirit writes "Physorg has a paper comparing the cost of text messaging versus the cost of getting data from Hubble Space Telescope. From the article: 'The maximum size for a text message is 160 characters, which takes 140 bytes because there are only 7 bits per character in the text messaging system, and we assume the average price for a text message is 5p. There are 1,048,576 bytes in a megabyte, so that's 1 million/140 = 7490 text messages to transmit one megabyte. At 5p each, that's £374.49 [$732.95] per MB — or about 4.4 times more expensive than the 'most pessimistic' estimate for Hubble Space Telescope transmission costs." "Hubble is by no means a cheap mission — but the mobile phone text costs were pretty astronomical!""
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SMS 4x More Expensive Than Data From Hubble

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  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:06AM (#23378352) Homepage Journal
    because the whole idea that cell towers and the like just sprouted like weeds is appealing but they are costly.

    Actually the comparison is bogus because its apple's and oranges. They have nothing in common other than that word "transmit"

    How much did it cost to deploy and manage a network capable of servicing text messages?

    How much did it cost to deploy the Hubble, let alone a system to manage it?

    Both relied on much existing infrastructure but I have to wonder, whats the preoccupation with texting? I know people who can't take a second breath in between having to text others. Are we that boring we need to bombard everyone around us to prove we are alive?
  • Real Cost? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SOOPRcow ( 1279010 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:07AM (#23378358)
    Is that the real cost of sending a text msg or just the average rate charged per msg? One has got to think its cheaper for phone companies to send a text msg then it is to make a phone call, but I don't know.
  • Markup (Score:5, Insightful)

    by esocid ( 946821 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:07AM (#23378366) Journal
    Everyone knows cellular companies markup text services so high it's ridiculous. I think it's in the range of 4000x higher than data transfer rates. You pay 0.10 for 140bytes for texts, or about 0.15 for 1024bytes in any data transfer service.
    This just makes it a stellar ripoff. When will it ever change?
  • This just in... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DanWS6 ( 1248650 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:15AM (#23378490)
    Ink for your printer is more expensive than gasoline for your car. Where's the justice?
  • by argmanah ( 616458 ) * <argmanah@y a h o> on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:22AM (#23378588)
    You're comparing cost versus retail price of two things massively different in scale in terms (cost per MB) that is completely meaningless in the world of SMS. Could you possibly have made a more pointless comparison?

    My computing time is 4x more valuable analyzing Seti@home data as opposed to loading this article up on /.
  • Re:Math is HARD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lennie ( 16154 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:24AM (#23378610)
    It doesn't matter, most textmessages are not 160 characters anyway.
  • Is this really a valid comparison? I mean, yes, Hubble is up in space and talks to earth, and that's complicated. But, Hubble is only one target, talking to relatively small handful of earth based stations. On the other hand, a cell phone network consists of traffic management for millions of subscribers, and with thousands of ground based stations that must be maintained.
  • by taupter ( 139818 ) <> on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:37AM (#23378830) Homepage
    ... and typing those Kanji in a mobile phone keyboard must be a royal PITA btw. :)
  • by jsebrech ( 525647 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:49AM (#23379002)
    these stupid contracts such as "You pay as 15 pounds a month and we'll give you x many text messages free!" What a stupid offer..

    It's actually quite clever. By throwing in "freebies", they can take them away at any time. Just like they throw around temporary discounts "sign up for 12 months, and the first 6 months you only pay ..."

    The more a company does this, the less likely I am to do business with them. It demonstrates an inherent lack of commitment to the existing customers (who usually don't get the freebies).

  • by nogginthenog ( 582552 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:54AM (#23379074)
    5p is far too low. The average in the UK is probably double that.
  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:57AM (#23379124)

    because the whole idea that cell towers and the like just sprouted like weeds is appealing but they are costly.
    That only sounds insightful. The cell towers in question provide the infrastructure for SMS/VOICE/DATA all at the same time. The cost of the tower is not actually relevant to your argument at all since it applies equally to all the products being provided.

    Actually the comparison is bogus because its apple's and oranges. They have nothing in common other than that word "transmit"
    Exactly the opposite in fact. Apples/Apples/Apples. Whether or not it is a SMS message, Voice call, or Data connection it is all just digital communications between the cellular handset and the towers. If you were to compare it to the Internet, the cell towers would be your connection and SMS/VOICE/DATA would just be different services communicating on the same foundation of TCP/IP. It's all just packets of data when you get down to it.

    How much did it cost to deploy and manage a network capable of servicing text messages?
    The best question you have asked so far. I don't know the answer either, but I do KNOW that we can compare that directly with the cost to deploy and manage a network capable of handling digital voice communications.

    How much did it cost to deploy the Hubble, let alone a system to manage it?

    That question was answered in the article itself by nobody less than NASA themselves. So the data he is using there is accurate.

    You are trying to consider the actual costs of a SMS infrastructure. However, you really only need to consider how much more difficult it is to establish a two-way voice communication than send a SMS text message.

    In order of difficulty, it starts with a voice conversation being the most difficult, a data session being the 2nd most difficult (I may be wrong here, data could be 1st for all I know), and lastly sending and acknowledging receipt of a SMS message. When you start to think about that ask yourself if a static 160 character SMS message really costs 20-25% of a minute of real time telephone conversation.

    That is the real "dirty" truth. Sending a SMS text message only requires a very short transmission of data and a receipt being sent back from the handset. If you were to attempt to compare that "Apple" to the "Orange" that is a 60 second slice of a voice call, you would find that a 60 second voice call is really just about a thousand of those little SMS messages being sent back and forth between the tower and handset. I came up with that number by assuming that a voice call will require at least 2.5KB/s of data for a decent quality connection. Take 2500 bytes and divide that by 140 bytes (from the article) and you get approx. 18 SMS messages per second of voice, which is 1080 SMS messages per minute.

    A SMS message is at most 1/1000th of the difficulty of sending and receiving voice data. There is no "separate" cell tower infrastructure that is more complex, and thus more costly, than the voice/data infrastructure. SMS was a tiny little added feature that turned into something else along the way, namely a astronomically high margin product.

    I am not even really that mad at them. They found a price point that people were willing to pay for a product that cost them far far less to "produce". I just happened to be one of the people that knew how high their margin really was and decided to not pay them for it. Caveat Emptor.
  • by the brown guy ( 1235418 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:58AM (#23379136) Journal

    And liquid Nitrogen is cheaper to buy than beer.
    You're obviously drinking way too expensive beer, try a 40 of old english malt liquor, sure it tastes nasty, but it's better than liquid nitrogen. (Or solid/gaseous nitrogen for that matter.)
  • Re:Real Cost? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by morethanapapercert ( 749527 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:01PM (#23379178) Homepage
    I seem to recall reading somewhere recently that sending text messages via SMS costs North American mobile carriers essentially nothing. The reason being that apparently cell networks have a reserved amount of bandwidth exclusively for the use of control signals. If I recall correctly, the established standards and protocols require this control signal allowance but in current practice it is either totally unused or drastically underused. SMS messages are sent using that control signal bandwidth and protocol so it is being sent using space that wasn't being used anyway. Thus the net cost of handling a text message is zero. (There may be costs in passing along text messages to another carrier on another network, that would depend on what peering agreements are in place I think.)
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:02PM (#23379200) Homepage
    Not for the actual concession operators, but that $4 is going somewhere. Most likely to the owners of the baseball team, or the player's salaries, or to the owners of the stadium.
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:06PM (#23379264) Homepage
    Lack of competition and cost awareness. Really.

    For example, take the data rates while abroad. Do you really think the extra cost of transferring data across the world (you know, like you're doing right now) justified a price that's often tens of dollars per megabyte? Or that in-flight calls [] really cost that much? They charge what people will pay, simple as that.
  • by Splab ( 574204 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:06PM (#23379266)
    No they can't.

    SMS is for most people instant messaging - just like E-mail has become. Yes this is not what was intended, but this is what consumers expect. If a telecom doesn't deliver SMS within a very small timeframe people will find a new carrier.
  • Re:Other costs? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by praxis ( 19962 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:12PM (#23379368)
    You're probably right that text messaging takes fewer resources but the little devil on my shoulder just hinted to me that that statement could have been motivated by their desire to increase their profit.
  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:31PM (#23379590)
    > while the price of SMS messages have risen so egregiously?

    As far as I know the cost of SMS hasn't risen. It jus hasn't fallen.

    When SMS started (early 90's - anyone?) the cost was, IIRC, 10p each. Now it's 5p. The starting price was a guess and seems to have more-or-less stuck. Obviously if people weren't willing to use the service the price would've been reduced. Since people are willing to pay 5p per message, there's no reason (how do you spell CARTEL, by the way?) for any of the carriers to reduce it.

    What they have done instead is to bundle "free" texts in with your monthly contracts - which is nice for the pay-monthly grown-ups, who don't use them, but no use at all for the PAYG kiddies who are the main text users.

    Now that's marketing!

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @01:11PM (#23380224)
    You don't mean free minutes, you mean minutes that you pay for regardless of whether you use them or not. They're anything but free.
  • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @01:16PM (#23380280)
    "because the whole idea that cell towers and the like just sprouted like weeds is appealing but they are costly."

    The towers were there long before anybody thought of SMS.

    "How much did it cost to deploy and manage a network capable of servicing text messages?"

    Small, best-effort text messages? Oh, I'd wager it's at least an order of magnitude less than the cost of switched networks capable of real-time voice transmission.

    "Both relied on much existing infrastructure but I have to wonder, whats the preoccupation with texting?"

    For me, it's because I get billed $0.20 for every wrong number and/or spam I receive. I've never sent an SMS message in my life and I don't anticipate that changing any time soon. Combine that with the price it cost the sender to send it and it's about enough for the USPS to process physical media. Why send a few dozen characters when you could send them a postcard with a pretty picture on it for less? Or for slightly more than what it costs to both send and receive a text message, you could mail them a DVD.

    "Are we that boring we need to bombard everyone around us to prove we are alive?"

    I'm more concerned with the phone companies bombarding me with frivolous charges.
  • Re:Double dipping (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @01:16PM (#23380282)
    "you aren't telling the whole story"

    What an obviously insidious guy.

    Maybe he didn't know about this little tidbit? BTW, FWIW personally I consider it more fair to be charged more if I call someone on a cell, after all, I can usually chose to use some other means of communication if I think it's too expensive. (Really though, unless you're a big talker the mobile doesn't get that expensive -- as long as you're not abroad topping off the bill with some roaming fees...) I'd be totally pissed off to have to pay everytime I get a message I didn't ask for, or everytime someone decided to call me. Why should I pay for something I had no part in initiating?
  • Re:Double dipping (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @02:01PM (#23381072) Journal

    and since Europe is standardized on GSM there's no issues like in America where people on different operators sometimes can't even message each other

    Where the hell did you get that idea from? I'm not aware of any carrier whose customers can't message people on another carrier. And what does GSM have to do with that? Different carriers being able to communicate with each other has nothing to do with the underlying cellular technology and everything to do with routing on the global POTS network.

    You pay extra for calling abroad, even from America, so why is it not fair to pay the extra cash for routing the call through wireless equipment?

    Because you are effectively making your friends pay for your privilege of having a wireless phone. In the American model the wireless customer pays for that privilege and the people seeking to call him aren't penalized because of his choice of phone service.

    Like I said, I don't pretend to know which one is more "fair" and I'm not really interested in a debate about it -- my original point was that pointing out that Europe gets free incoming calls is only half the story.

  • by SenseiLeNoir ( 699164 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:52AM (#23389172)
    I really don't know about what is going on in the USA, regarding these "costs", but I used to work for LogicaCMG (who at one point was responsible for the production of 75% of all the SMS servers in the world). I have also maintained software for routing SMS throughout the world.

    Let me tell you, the actual costs of sending SMS is peanuts. In 2001 it was approximately 0.1p per message. Its actually much cheaper now. This includes cost of electricity, processor power, and all other associated costs.

    A poster below explains how SMS worked previously, that it effectively uses part of the "wasted" sideband in the GSM signalling. This sideband always exists, and if the payload was not used, it is effectively wasted.

    Whilst it is true that although "free" there is a finite limit on the total number of sidebands available for SMS, again technology has come up with a different answer. Most modern GSM phones (Especially Sony Ericsson, and I am certain the others have menu options too) have the ability to send SMS via GPRS as opposed to GSM sideband. GPRS has a far higher bandwidth, and on 3G/HSPDA it can go up to 3.5Mbit per second. This "data rate" is already offered to most people at FAR less costs than SMS.

    The point being is that SMS is extremely cheap for the operators. So why the insane costs? Lets take one2one-uk (now t-mobile-uk). When they started their SMS service in 1997/1998, they charged 4p per message, and made a tidy profit at the time. Very soon afterwards, they ramped their costs to 10p per message. They said they did this to match what vodafone, etc was doing. It appeared that their surveys shown that customers were willing to pay 10p per message!?!

    This was around about the time the 3G auctions happend, and the operators in Europe blew huge amounts of money bidding for the frequencies, hoping the dot com boom will bring immense profits (ie they were greedy)

    What actually happened was, that the dot com era flopped, and the services they were looking to profit from the 3G era simply vanished. Laden with debt, they have used SMS to provide their method of debt recovery.

    Its just pure profit. It particularly shows when they also charge 10p per message when sent through their web interface. grrrrrrrrrr.

    What's even more galling is that that T-Mobile charge 20p per message to send abroad, and when abroad they charge 40p per message (rip off).

    Now when you consider T-Mobile charges 20p per message for MMS (which can contain MUCH more text, and Pictures, AND sound - and should cost more to send). and its 20p irregardless of whether you send from within the UK, or abroad, and to any number in the world. So it PROOVES that the operators CAN reduce costs.

    Finally the same phones sending or receiving SMS and MMS, can also send Email at potentially more cost benefits, and you can see how crazy the whole situation is.

    I can "partly" understand BT charging 10p per text message send via the "landline" here in the UK (yes we have SMS send and receive through landlines as well, with a suitable phone). But its a bit more involved through a landline, as it involves a "hidden" data call both ways to send/receive.

    So there you go.

VMS must die!