UK campaign for cheaper SMS messages
March 14, 2006 6:21 AM   Subscribe

In the UK, people are sending 100 million SMS messages with their mobile phone every day, at prices that are far higher than you would expect. Now, some people have started an online campaign to try and influence the mobile phone operators to drop their prices. (more SMS statistics)
posted by SharQ (56 comments total)
 
Wow, an online petition?

How many moble providers are there in the UK? If the market can sustain that rate, the providers would have to be crazy to lower prices without everyone else doing it as well, unless they were desperate for new customers.
posted by delmoi at 6:26 AM on March 14, 2006


that's 300 million quid per month of revenue, for a service that costs next to nothing to the mobile operators.

Yeah, they're going to throw that away because once guy complained.

Seriously, what incentive to they have to drop prices? Demand obviously supports the 10p/msg cost—100 million per day? Man.
posted by S.C. at 6:27 AM on March 14, 2006


I was too busy misspelling "one guy" to get in before delmoi.
posted by S.C. at 6:28 AM on March 14, 2006


In the UK, people are sending 100 million SMS messages with their mobile phone every day, at prices that are far higher than you would expect.

How do you quantify what "you would expect," in order to determine if prices are "far higher"? And if people are willing to send 100 million SMS messages at the current price, isn't that some evidence that the current price point is pretty reasonable?

(and I'm sorry, but a link to an online campaign is a pretty lame post).
posted by pardonyou? at 6:28 AM on March 14, 2006


And I was too busy typing small tags to get in before delmoi or S.C.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:29 AM on March 14, 2006


i never did understand why mobile phone prices were so high. honestly, the technology has surpassed the profitability of land based lines. they have surely reached the point where they can drop prices. not only that, they would probably make more profit that way.

who knows... economics confuse me.
posted by Doorstop at 6:30 AM on March 14, 2006


Wait... so the argument is that because so many people want to use what is pretty much a completely unessential product... it should be made cheaper?

There's a difference between having issues with Capitalism and not knowing anything about basic economics, Sir.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:32 AM on March 14, 2006


Question. Why link to a 'feature' in chav-mag Fast Car (which can't even get the link right), rather than link directly to the actual site? Oh. The actual site doesn't seem to work either.

Great post.
posted by StuMiller at 6:33 AM on March 14, 2006


I was too busy dismissing this as the usual "Wow, everybody's paying money for a service. Supply, meet demand.... demand, here's my friend supply." to get in before everyone else. Dammit. If only my snarkiness were faster!
posted by zpousman at 6:33 AM on March 14, 2006


"I used to send an absolute ton of messages. Hundreds of messages per day, some times", says Ewan.

He really has that many important things to say?
posted by c13 at 6:38 AM on March 14, 2006


I'd love to do some research and actually support the following statement so it doesn't sound like a leftist bumper sticker... This is what the internet would be like if it were created by a company.
posted by sleslie at 6:41 AM on March 14, 2006


Sorry... 1p is 1/100 or 1/200 of a pound?

Anyway, prices seem about right, it's comparable with the prices here (lower demand, lower income, heavy competition).

The difference is that SMS here is more like negotiation currency. Like, when you buy a phone, you get some hundreds (really, 200 or so) SMSs. You recharge your prepaid phone, you get 100 SMSs. You pay your bills, you get 100 SMSs. You sneeze in an operator's general direction, you get 100 SMSs.

Though the prices here are comparable with the UK, you must be really a POWER user of SMS to ever have to pay for it.
posted by qvantamon at 6:44 AM on March 14, 2006


1p is 1/100 of a pound.
posted by Atreides at 6:49 AM on March 14, 2006


Those idiots have phones. Why don't they just talk into them? SMS messaging is about as cool as Morse code.
posted by wakko at 6:52 AM on March 14, 2006


If the market is competitive in the UK (and that's not to assume that it is) then operators are presumably competing with each other on basic subscription rates, keeping those rates low. Charging for SMS presumably improves their bottom line and helps those basic rates go even lower. It also may help subsidise sub poorer people who just need a phone for basic needs and emergencies but don't SMS all day.

I don't know that this is true, this is just the perspective from a mythiical free-market ideal.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:56 AM on March 14, 2006


This post was interesting for the stats. Apparently Ewan is paying so much for his texting that his web hosting bills are going unpaid though. Don't think the phone companies have much to worry about with this 'campaign.'

There is one argument for making texting cheaper though... at least with texting you don't have to listen to the guy next to you ring up 200 of his mates just to say "Hey, I'm at Euston."
posted by Zinger at 6:56 AM on March 14, 2006


100 sms messages per month is nothing. Most of my friends (and myself) routinely send 30-40 sms messages per day. That's over 1000 per month.

The site has updated the link to the campaign to the right one.
posted by SharQ at 6:57 AM on March 14, 2006


How the fuck do you send 40 SMSs in a day!?
posted by salmacis at 7:03 AM on March 14, 2006


30-40 in a day?!? I suspect you (and your friends) might want to find something better to do with your time. And your money. Don't forget your money.
posted by StuMiller at 7:04 AM on March 14, 2006


Actually, I think I've figured it out. Someone who photographs locks on toilet doors as a hobby. That's who sends 30-40 texts a day.

(Just kidding. But toilet locks??)
posted by StuMiller at 7:07 AM on March 14, 2006


Hey now, Stu, if you are going to be linking to that, at least link to the right page and the FAQ as well!
posted by SharQ at 7:11 AM on March 14, 2006


SMS messaging is another fad, it too will pass, as thet say.
posted by Joeforking at 7:11 AM on March 14, 2006


All of you who say this is a supply-demand thing driving the market are not really understanding how the economics would work in a truly competitive market. If texting were 100% competitive then you would expect short-run prices to be equal to the Mariginal cost of a text. Since the marginal cost of a text for a mature mobile telephone network is (I would image) virtually 0 you would expect them to be nearly free. In the short-run. In the long-run they would need to recover the capital investment required for texting. I am not sure that 1p isn't the answer to that #, but - "If people are willing to pay, its fair" is not the right way to look at it. To really know if its fair you would have to see what return on the incremental capital needed for SMS is. If that's very high then an oligopoly might exist that the gov't needs to get under control. Or in a true free market someone would figure that out and start pricing less for SMS and grab more market share. In the UK see Sainsbury vs. Tesco for a great illustration of what happens when a company overearns and another company figures that out .
posted by JPD at 7:13 AM on March 14, 2006


Salmacis: Think about it. there are 60m people in the UK, and they send 100m text messages every day. That's an average of 1.67 text messages per person per day. Per month, that works out at 50 text messages on average.

This assumes, of course, that every person in the UK has a mobile phone (not true), and that everyone who uses a mobile phone sends SMS messages.

I think you'll find that many users of SMS services text more than 100 SMS messages per day on occasional basis, and that a large bulk of young people send far more SMS messages than the older age groups.
posted by SharQ at 7:14 AM on March 14, 2006


Hey now, Stu, if you are going to be linking to that, at least link to the right page and the FAQ as well!

I'm not sure if that makes it better, or worse. But anyway.
posted by StuMiller at 7:17 AM on March 14, 2006


SharQ, I don't think it was the math that had Salmacis making brain boggle noises. I think he/she was wondering exactly what you find to say in 30-40 messages per day, every day.
posted by Zinger at 7:18 AM on March 14, 2006


wakko writes "Those idiots have phones. Why don't they just talk into them? SMS messaging is about as cool as Morse code."


I agree for the most part, but this Klosterman column is about as good as explanation for the fad as any.
posted by mullacc at 7:28 AM on March 14, 2006


I have a friend who incessently texts other friends of his, even when he's hanging out with us. It's annoying. He has pointless conversations with people that you could have on the phone in under five minutes* but instead he spends more time to type them into his phone and then reads them out to us. Often the people he's texting are girls he met at the bar once upon a time and doesn't even remember which girl it is.

He pays 5 bucks a month for unlimited use of the service, so he tries to push the limits of what "unlimited" means.

*not that you would bother. They're so inane:
- Where R U?
- @ rae's
- I'm bored
- Sux 2 b u


Other times he'll send one message to everyone in his phonebook announcing something like "I quit my job at the mall".

I only mention this annoying aspect of this friend to illustrate the point that I understand how some people can use dozens of messages a day.
posted by raedyn at 7:33 AM on March 14, 2006


(The people most likely to overuse SMS are teenagers. Teenagers are also more likely to have their parents paying their bills, and to prioritize social needs over financial ones. It's no surprise that they'll spend buttloads of money to keep in touch with each other.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:42 AM on March 14, 2006


Well some people can make 30-40 MeFi comments a day. Maybe they need to find something better to do with their time. We've been using SMSs actively here in the Nordics for about 10 years now, doesn't seem like a fad that's going to go away any time soon.

But it the UK you can as well get calling plans that include n messages a month so it doesn't have to be _that_ expensive.
posted by keijo at 7:43 AM on March 14, 2006


I cnt blv ne1 blvs a pttn wl hv ne fct.

People who use mobiles this much are cnts anyway.
posted by longbaugh at 7:44 AM on March 14, 2006


How do you quantify what "you would expect," in order to determine if prices are "far higher"? And if people are willing to send 100 million SMS messages at the current price, isn't that some evidence that the current price point is pretty reasonable?

Compare to voice -- if you pay $0.20 for a 140 byte SMS, you are paying for a data transfer on the network at a rate of $0.18/kb. If you pay $0.04/min for a voice call, and your phone supports a voice data rate of 13.4kb/s, you pay $0.00005/kb. There is a total disconnect between what you pay for SMS and what it costs to support it.
posted by eddydamascene at 7:58 AM on March 14, 2006


And the column that mullacc links to is a perfect explanation of what heavy text users do. Pointless messages that are a running commentary on their life. "I'm eating walleye" "My feet hurt" whatever.
posted by raedyn at 8:00 AM on March 14, 2006


It's most expensive for people paying as you go, because contracts can get them bundled pretty easily. And people paying as they go are most likely to be under-18s ... who are most likely to text. Ho hum.

At least Vodafone is offering free unlimited texts for life to students. That'd lock me in too.
posted by bonaldi at 8:01 AM on March 14, 2006


I heard an economy professor explain once that SMS was really a tax on stupidity. Makes sense.
posted by NekulturnY at 8:02 AM on March 14, 2006


What?
The same service company that continued to charge high monthly lease charges for obsolete home phones decades after they were a cheap, buy anywhere item?

Unpossible!
posted by HTuttle at 8:09 AM on March 14, 2006


I heard an economy professor explain once that SMS was really a tax on stupidity.

Hmm . . . sort of like the lottery.

There must be very deep connection in there somewhere . . .
posted by flug at 8:15 AM on March 14, 2006


Wait... so the argument is that because so many people want to use what is pretty much a completely unessential product... it should be made cheaper?

Since nobody's mentioned it already, I'll throw in the business use angle of this. I use SMS for connecting all of my normal online communications when I'm away from the computer. As soon as my machine goes idle, all instant messages forward to my phone.

When I arrived at the airport from Europe yesterday, I was able to alert my family and my coworkers in an instant, get updates from several people and coordinate my arrival at the office. It ultimately saved me from several phone calls to people that might not have picked up their phones (and thus phone tag), the time it would have taken for small talk when I actually did make a call or a lot of extra online time when I arrived home to accomplish the same thing I did in about 10 minutes while waiting for a taxi.

This is even more important to my coworkers abroad who don't have constant Internet connections and where call costs aren't always as forgiving as the US. I know of at least one person who doesn't pay for voicemail over there, but uses SMS extensively.
posted by VulcanMike at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2006


I was in my local Orange shop a while back buying a pre-pay phone for my grandma. There was a girl, aged about 22, in there who was complaining about her phone bill and seeing if she could change her tarriff. Her previous monthly bill, I overheard, was ~£130 ($160-170). She had sent something like 700 texts in that month. They changed her tarriff so she was paying £77 a month. I can't remember ever going above £20 a month. I use Skype and email instead...
posted by tommorris at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2006


He'll change the world - apparently 81 texters agree with him...
posted by twine42 at 10:45 AM on March 14, 2006


SMS messaging is about as cool as Morse code.

--- -- --. .-- - ..-. .-.. --- .-.. !!!.----!!

-.- - .... -..- -... -.-- .
posted by hangashore at 10:47 AM on March 14, 2006


When I went to my local deli on Sunday to buy a chicken parmesan sandwich for lunch, I overheard the cashier (a teenage girl) telling her friend that she'd been dumped by her boyfriend via text message after dating him for a year. "I mean, shit," she said, "he couldn't even pick up the phone? Didn't he have the heart to pick up the phone?"

("Didn't have the balls, more like," her friend said.)
posted by Prospero at 10:49 AM on March 14, 2006


she'd been dumped by her boyfriend via text message after dating him for a year

So how'd that go? I'd imagine something like

l3ts jst b fr3ndz
c u l8r

"he couldn't even pick up the phone? Didn't he have the heart to pick up the phone?"

So close and yet so far - couldn't even be bothered to scroll his address book.
posted by hangashore at 11:06 AM on March 14, 2006


Are most of the people commenting here, from the US? The whole UK SMS phenomenon has been at these high levels for some years now and as I understood it, has not really taken off in the US in the same way.

A lot of people use text because it's inconvenient to talk or they simply don't want to at the time. Maybe it's a culture/social thing in the UK that makes us prefer this? Also, it's used a lot more than mobile email in the UK so it's convenient because everyone else communicates that way. Even my 60 year old mother sends 5 or more texts a day.

I fully support this campaign and think it's justified. As somebody pointed out earlier the actual data costs are minimal. Surely this is just profiteering?

On preview: I hear a lot of that, people getting dumped by text. Maybe that says more about the state of the relationship rather than about the medium?
posted by 999 at 11:27 AM on March 14, 2006


The reason is that in the UK, SMS is way cheaper than a voice call.

Most phone contracts here follow some byzantine charging policy where the charge varies according to the time of day or the number of call minutes used since the last full moon divided by your starsign. SMS is a simple fixed charge per message.

The lesson the phone companies should be taking from this is that simple sells.
posted by Lanark at 11:30 AM on March 14, 2006


In the UK, are users charged for local calls on landlines? I seem to recall someone telling me this once, but they might have been wrong, or my memory may be poor.
posted by raedyn at 11:50 AM on March 14, 2006


When I asked my British friend why she text messaged most of the time, she also affirmed that it was in fact cheaper.
posted by kyrademon at 11:52 AM on March 14, 2006


raedyn: It depends on one's phone supplier. On BT, the answer is no. Some of the cable providers (etc.) have free local calls.
posted by tommorris at 12:27 PM on March 14, 2006


The reason is that in the UK, SMS is way cheaper than a voice call.

I think it also has to do with the availability of public transit in the UK as well. When you're doing your daily commute from St. Alban's into London downtown or wherever, texting is a way to pass the time. You can't really - or at least shouldn't - send text messages while driving. Calling someone even with a handsfree is bad enough...
posted by Zinger at 12:29 PM on March 14, 2006


I'd actually disagree with the "it's cheaper" sentiment. To get the same amount of information across to the other person would only take a few seconds on the phone.

People won't usually just call someone for a few seconds though. My point being that to converse at a similar level via text is more expensive-the girl above who had spent £130 on her phone bill would IMHO have found it very difficult to have done that through voice calls alone.
posted by 999 at 1:54 PM on March 14, 2006


You answer yourself: it's cheaper because people won't make calls that short, so to call means spending more money. And because a call is also a greater investment in time (all the fluff like hello/how are you/goodbye) you don't make them for one-shot pieces of info.

Looking at my inbox, I see txts: a) from a family member checking if I'm back from holiday, b) from a fellow hack commenting on a hideous headline in a paper today, c) from a friend who saw a house for sale, details available if I want them.

None of these things are worth a phonecall, nor are they worth saving up until they next see me. It's just a way of staying connected, as if you were chatting to someone in another room, even though you're across town (or the globe).

Isn't the new world all about staying connected?
posted by bonaldi at 2:08 PM on March 14, 2006


Even my 60 year old mother sends 5 or more texts a day.

I'm afraid I would shoot myself. Or ditch my phone.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:51 PM on March 14, 2006


I'd actually disagree with the "it's cheaper" sentiment. To get the same amount of information across to the other person would only take a few seconds on the phone.

If you have pay-as-you-go in the UK they typically charge you about 30p a minute for the first three minutes of any phone call for X number of calls a day, rates differ is you call a landline or another cell etc. etc. It's cheaper and easier to text.
posted by fshgrl at 8:44 PM on March 14, 2006


I am far less frustrated by the 10p price than I am by the 160 character limit. It can't be beyond the wit of man to make technology which can be used to send more than (message continues...)
posted by cogat at 8:47 PM on March 14, 2006


I am a pay-as-you-go user on a UK network and try to never use my phone as a phone, simply because the cost of the calls shoots up so fast. For me to ring my girlfriend the call can easily be 50p (~90cents) a minute for the first three minutes, so I just text her what I need to say. If I want to actually talk to her I try to postpone it until we can both be at our PCs so I can skype her.

What I really don't get about SMS messages costing so much is that it clearly shouldn't cost that much. Every month that I top up my mobile 10 pounds I get 300 free text messages given to me to use in the next 30 days. For me to not get any worth out of the 10 pounds I put on the phone except those 300 text messages, the price works out to be only 3.3p per SMS message. As soon as that month has run out or I use all 300 messages the price instantly rolls up to 10p a message.

I have only been living in the UK for about 2 years now, and the mobile service is high on the small list of things that I prefered in the US significantly. In the states I spent 35$ a month and had enough minutes to last me the entire month even though I was using it as my only phone. Here in the UK, I have to constantly be aware of how much credit I have and also make all efforts to avoid making any calls at all since it just adds up so quickly.
posted by herting at 9:50 PM on March 14, 2006


With regard to the cost, I suspect that most mobile companies in the UK are still trying to claw back the ludicrous amount of money they spent on their 3G licenses and which has (AFAIK) not yet proved to be a fruitful investment.
posted by biffa at 2:53 AM on March 15, 2006


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