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SMS costs more than using Hubble Space Telescope

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A British boffin has calculated that text messages are a horrendously expensive method of handling information, costing many times more than it does to access data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

"Hubble is by no means a cheap mission," says Dr Nigel Bannister, a space scientist at the University of Leicester. "But mobile phone text costs are astronomical."

The Midlands-based brainbox explains his reasoning thus:

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 per MB.

Pretty fierce - and a lot of people pay more than 5p for a text. That's a hundred times typical UK pay-as-you-go data rates on GPRS or 3G. And it's very expensive even compared to pricey spacegoing access like the Hubble. Bannister asked NASA what it costs to get data down from the orbital telescope, and they said £8.85 per megabyte to get it down to the ground.

Bannister, being as kind as possible to the phone companies, bumped that up to allow for the various other steps necessary to get Hubble data into the hands of scientists. He reckoned the overall price would be a maximum of £85 per MB, putting text messaging anywhere from four to 42 times as expensive as talking to the Hubble.

The research was used in last week's Channel 4 Dispatches programme, “The Mobile Phone Rip-Off”. Read all the details from Leicester University here. ®

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