I've never been a big user of SMS messaging on my cell phone, but I know that the kids are all over it these days--when they're not all over my lawn, that is. :-)

Seriously, though, paying per-message costs always seemed rather silly. So it was with great amusement that I read The True Cost of SMS Messages and discovered that they're about 61 million times more expensive than TCP/IP from your typical Cable Modem service.

The article is rather fun. You can read a whole line of reasoning that compares SMS costs with the postal service and home broadband. The conclusion cracked me up.

TCP/IP: $1
TCP/SMS: $61,356,851.20
TCP/USPS: $307,072.00 (Bits written out on paper)
So getting a SMS delivered is bit for bit 200x more expensive than getting a message hand delivered to your doorstep anywhere in the United States.
What exactly justifies making SMS messages sixty one million times more expensive than ISP data and 200x more expensive than TCP/USPS? How come technology, communication, and infrastructure is getting cheaper while the costs of SMS messages are increasing exponentially? My theory: SMS messages are transfered over air made of solid gold.


In other words, save your pennies if you can't buy SMS in bulk.

Posted by jzawodn at January 29, 2008 10:26 AM

Reader Comments
# jon said:

Remember, this is the same industry where people pay $3 for midi files. They cost that much because people pay it.

And in practical usage, $.10 or $.20 per message is irrelevant, because anyone who sends enough has some sort of plan (unlimited, or 1000 per month, or whatever). I pay $10 per month for 1000 messages (incoming + outgoing).

on January 29, 2008 10:37 AM
# Kin Lane said:

Why did we fall into such a trap with our telecommuncations industry which allows them to nickel and dime us for things that don't cost them.....and such a level of control.

It is yet another piece that is slowing us down in development compared to the rest of the world??

on January 29, 2008 11:02 AM
# Dan said:

Imagine if it cost a few cents to send an email which by all rights is more extensive then a text message.

on January 29, 2008 11:36 AM
# said:

I have to wonder about the kind of person who would waste their time with even doing these kinds of calculations.

A very large part of what makes good IT people is being able to choose the right tool for the job and applying it correctly. Anyone who does calculations like this and try and compare them as like for like is clearly incompetent on a very basic level.

Yes mobile networks are some of the most greedy money grabbing people in the world, but what is a SMS? It's designed to be a globally unique end point for a short textual message no matter where you are.

It is actually pretty amazing, can you imagine having the same IP address anywhere in the world wherever you go - your actual IP not a DNS record or anything funny like VPNs and such? Can you? Is it even possible? The answer is no, but that is what your phone number is and SMS is a end point on that globally unique and portable address.

The mobile networks are very very impressive routing engines capable of delivering data, text, voice and billing information anywhere in the world with the smallest latency and extremely high % number of reliability.

And the fact that it works between networks run by such greedy people like mobile networks, anywhere in the world. These same people who are notorious for their closeness and non cooperative nature with anyone, I'd say its worth a few pence cos its actually very impressive.

on January 29, 2008 11:58 AM
# Jeremy Wright said:

3$. Unlimited incoming and outgoing SMS. I don't see what the issue is, really. Sure, if I didn't have a plan it'd be 10c to send and 5c to receive with my carrier. Which means if I've going to send or receive more than like 1 message per day it's cheaper to get the plan.

I mean, c'mon, we pay for call display, right? Why not SMS?

on January 29, 2008 12:09 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Anonymous: I think they do this stuff because it's funny.

At least that'd be *my* motivation. :-)

on January 29, 2008 12:11 PM
# said:

Jeremy: Oh I know, but this little bit of b/s has been reported all over the show and people seem to take it seriously :)

on January 29, 2008 12:27 PM
# T said:

Prices are not dictated by cost unless they are a commodity. People clearly value the service.

on January 29, 2008 03:52 PM
# Diego said:

In the US most people pay for receiving an SMS, right? Or so I hear. If that's so, that's so upside-down.

on January 29, 2008 04:30 PM
# Jonathan Disher said:

Diego: That's correct. My wife and I are on a FamilyShare plan with AT&T (or whatever it's called these days), and I would get charged 10c to send her an SMS, and then charged another 10c for her to receive it.

It's utterly retarded. But what option do I have, besides not using SMS? I guess I could learn to coerce pigeons into flying from Sunnyvale to Palo Alto to ask her what's for dinner.

Hrm, that would be sad. If the pigeon is intercepted (hawk, housecat, wayward Lotus Exige on Central Expwy), I might go hungry :(

on January 29, 2008 06:08 PM
# nexusprime said:


I don't understand why the recipient has to pay? That makes no sense at all.

I'd hardly use text messages if that were the case, as it happens. I guess I'm showing my age though, as I prefer to pick up and call someone (I'm only 27, but texting is far too much effort and I hate TXT-speak).

on January 30, 2008 12:54 AM
# Maurice said:

yeh paying to recive calls or sms just deosnt make sense just how dumb is the FCC they make the overpaid Ofcom numptys seem like Noble prize winning geniusís

on January 30, 2008 01:37 AM
# Diego said:

Jonathan: I guess you don't have an option. I was just asking whether that was the case (that receiver pays). That doesn't happen here in Australia or a lot of Europe. The idea just doesn't make sense. That's all. The phone companies always love to get blood from a stone.

on January 30, 2008 06:36 PM
# Mark J said:

I believe the SMS feature is making the Telecoms one of the fastest growing companies here in the Philippines.

It surpasses voice traffic any given day. :) It costs 1 peso (~ 2 cents) per send, and zero for receiving it.

What's more wacked about SMS here is that if you try to develop an SMS application that plugs into the Teleco's infra, an 80/20 percent share is common, with developers having only 20.

on January 30, 2008 07:13 PM
# sam said:


Dude lighten up - it's just meant to be sort of a tongue-in-cheek analysis showing the cost of the data when compared to admittedly ridiculous things like data from an ISP or even printing out data on paper in 1's and 0's and mailing it.

The examples are silly and hopefully a bit interesting, but the main point is that we're being GOUGED on text messages. All growing up, I remember phone calls from payphones being 25 cents, and now in 2008 we're paying 40 cents to send 140 bytes of data?! I don't care who you are, but that's a rip off.

on January 31, 2008 12:18 PM
# ColoZ said:

Thanks for pointing to this! I have been railing for years at the spectacular rip-off SMS messages are. Especially since the cost-per-bit of voice calls on the *same networks* is in the microdollar range.

on January 31, 2008 04:24 PM
# Jewell said:

Have any of you guys ever heard of www.FreebieSMS.co.uk ? It seems to send free SMS messages in the UK, but does anyone have any experience with them?
I am using this web site for communicating with my friends in U.K. You can try it and easily maintain a good communication with you dear one through SMS!
So without any hasitation log on it and explore the opportunity waiting for you. Have great fun!

on March 8, 2008 10:55 PM
# Olly said:

You won't have great fun. Don't use freebiesms.co.uk, it is a scam.

You don't pay to send a text message (so long as you are with one of the big carriers, see website small print), but the receiver pays £5! They receive a message that makes it look as if they will pay 5p to read the message. A nasty, long-running scam. Avoid.

on May 26, 2009 05:31 AM
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