Sunday, September 28, 2008

SMS is a G*dd*mn ripoff

This is a bit of a geeky post, but the end result affects just about everybody.

SMS, aka Short Message Service, or better known as a text message on your phone, has a maximum length of 160 characters or 140 characters depending on the alphabet used. If it's 160 characters, each character is 7 bits and if it's 140 characters, each character is 8 bits (a standard ascii character). Thus the max length for each text message is 140*8 = 160*7 = 1120 bits.

If you don't have a text plan, here's what happens. Each text you send or receive costs you $.20.
.2 dollars per text / 1120 bits per text = 0.00017857 dollars per bit. At this level, it doesn't sound too bad. Less than a penny. But let's move on.

$0.00017857 per bit * 8 bits per byte = 0.00142856 dollars per byte. This is a little over 1/10 of a penny per byte. Sure.

$0.00142856 per byte * 1024 bytes per kilobyte = 1.4628454 dollars per KB.

$1.4628454/KB * 1024 KB/MB = $1497.9537 per MB. That's almost $1,500 per megabyte! For those not very familiar with these terms, consider this. An average quality 3-minute MP3 song file is about 3 megabytes. Can you imagine spending nearly $4,500 to transfer a song over a network? A good quality digital photo can take up 1 or more MB of space. Imagine being charged per message for using AIM or any other instant message app. Those conversations would get pretty costly, wouldn't they?

Text messages are just plain data. Ever see a "Readme" document on your computer that's got a bunch of text instructions in it? Same thing. Plain text. It's a heinous ripoff. It's a crime.

So you might be wondering "well I have a plan where I pay $5 per month to get 200 texts." Well, that's a little better. Without a plan you'd be paying $5 already for only 25 messages. But following the same formula above ($5/# of total bits) * 8*1024*1024 you will pay $187.25 per MB of text. Does that seem reasonable?

Even if you were to get 1,000 texts per month for $5, it would still be a ripoff at $37.45 per MB. I pay less than that for unlimited data over my DSL Internet service with AT&T. By myself I probably use several hundred MB per day just doing light surfing, and I'm not even the only person in my household using the same line.

By the way, I should mention that even if you don't send a text that's the maximum length of 160 or 140 characters you still get charged the same. In other words, it's $.20 for a 160-character message or $.20 for a 10-character message.

If all data were treated like SMS it would be impractical to transmit anything anywhere.

Special thanks to Leo Laporte for the idea.