You are paying more than NASA for your data

Pax Arcana

Sending and receiving text messages from your cell phone — or as Pax Arcana calls it, the “gossamer communicatron” — involves a complicated array of technologies.

First the signal is transmitted from your handheld device to a nearby television antenna, where it is sent into ether and converted into radio signals. Then a series of tree-shaped radio receivers convert the signals into morse code and pipe the dots and dashes through a complicated network of underground tubes called “The Internets.” Once the morse code is translated by a crew of protocol droids, gasoline-powered turbines push the messages in hermetically sealed envelopes to a storehouse dedicated to your recipient’s cell phone number. An operator then reads the message and types the text onto the recipients cell phone screen through some sort of inscrutable black magic called “satellite.”

Speaking of satellites, one British space scientist (via Boing Boing) says the cost of sending and receiving text messages is four times higher than NASA pays for digital transmissions from the Hubble telescope. Which is way the fuck out there in space.

Ready to be bored?

“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 – or about 4.4 times more expensive than the ‘most pessimistic’ estimate for Hubble Space Telescope transmission costs.”

Of course there are infrastructure costs — switching stations, towers, mall kiosks — that cell phone companies have to pay for somehow. The Hubble got its money from John Q. Taxpayer.

Speaking of, how much did the Hubble cost anyway? Oh, here it is. $6 billion. That sounds like an awful lot of money, doesn’t it?

Not so, says this one guy:

NASA space science chief Ed Weiler is quick to put that seemingly huge number in perspective.

“Thats about $6 billion spread out over 30 years,” he said. “And that equates to about two cents a week per American taxpayer over that period of time.”

Two cents a week? That’s more than a dollar a year! Do you know how many text messages that buys?

SMS data rate is 4x more expensive than data from the Hubble [Boing Boing]


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