The Rabid Conservative

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Tech Mage – Truth About Text Messaging

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Hello folks –

Hopefully Christmas treated you all well.  And for those of you who don’t like to say Christmas, but rather, call it an “Unspecified or Conglomerated Holiday(s)” well, hope it was good for you too.

Today, I’d like to take this issue of TechMage to talk about Text Messaging and something, I’m pretty sure, you didn’t realise about it – something that the big four cell companies would rather you not know.

Texting is a part of our daily lives now. And while I’m not overly hip on reducing our ability to articulately communicate to 160 byte messages, there’s something to be said about the phone-omenon. (yeah, that was corny). But in Rabid style, let me provide you a little insight into the thing that your cell carrier would prefer you not know.

First, a little techie background: Texting or Short Messaging Service (SMS) has been around for quite longer than when people began using it for texting. Turns out, SMS uses the same channel, the control channel, for text messaging. This channel is the one that controls how your cell phone communicates with the tower and handles things like switchover from one tower to the next, such as when you’re doing a nice long drive through the country. There isn’t a seperate channel between your mobile device and the cell tower for your text messages, implying an add-on service. Instead, you’re paying to use something you already have, whether you actually use it or not.

The point is, the channel is there; the bandwidth is there. So long as the text usage is proportional to voice usage, the cell companies won’t even have to install new infrastructure to keep up with the demand; it scales. But we’re paying for it, as if we’re getting a good deal on additional “services”.

The big four mobile companies, if you haven’t noticed already, have hiked up the price of texting for a-la-carte subscribers, which actually make up a big component of the market. Why? Well, they would tell you its because of increases in demand, but that’s just not so. Since the greatest majority of people with a cell phone have no idea how it works, the cell companies can charge you for an additional service, even though your phone uses the control channel.

You’re simply paying for the “privilege” to text. It’s not really a service, since they’re not really doing anything different to handle your texting.  But the big motivator is to push you away from a-la-carte and move you to the $5/month plan.

Predictable Price Structure

You see, companies would rather be able to predict how much revenue they’ll have coming in, rather than try to gauge it. Remember back in the AOL v1 and v2 days when you paid by the minute for being online? With AOL 2.5, the moved you to a monthly rate and then charged you a-la-carte for additional usage. It’s the same here.

One thing I do in my job is deal with pricing for telephone use and I’ve noticed in just the last year, long distance companies are selling packages of minutes (such as 1000 minutes) for land-line long distance. Why? Competition with the cell networks who offer free long distance, being able to extract at least X dollars for any usage up to the maximum. In other words, they got your $60, even if you don’t burn the 1000 minutes – similar to cell usage.

But the texting thing is an increased cost based on nothing. The big four are raising the rates on text for no other reason than profit – because they see that the “thumb/Twitter” generation is more and more verbose.

So, for you a-la-carte texters out there who have been screeching that the price per message has been going up, well, now, just know that it wasn’t because of needing more bandwidth. That’s a red herring, if not an outright lie.  But it’s a lie that is making your cell provider happy to take your $15-$20/month for unlimited messaging – and providing nothing additional, except a charge to your bill.

Just thought you might like to know.



Stross, R (2008) What Carriers Aren’t Eager to Tell You About Texting. New York Times. Online:

Hord, J. (2008) How SMS Works. Online:


Written by The Rabid Conservative

December 29, 2008 at 12:15 pm

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