Space scientist says texting is four times more expensive than receiving scientific data from space

May 12, 2008

A University of Leicester space scientist has worked out that sending texts via mobile phones works out to be far more expensive than downloading data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Dr Nigel Bannister’s calculations were used for the Channel 4 Dispatches programme “The Mobile Phone Rip-Off”.

He worked out the cost of obtaining a megabyte of data from Hubble – and compared that with the 5p cost of sending a text.

He said: “The bottom line is texting is at least 4 times more expensive than transmitting data from Hubble, and is likely to be substantially more than that.

“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.”

Dr Bannister said it had been difficult to work out exactly how much Hubble data transmission costs. So he contacted NASA who gave him a firm figure of £8.85 per megabyte (MB) for the transmission of data from HST to the Earth.

“This doesn't include the cost of the ground stations and the time of the personnel along the way, but it is an unambiguous number for that part of the process. So that's £8.85 to get each MB from Hubble, to the first point of contact on the ground, but no further. Hence we need to go a little bit further to estimate exactly how much it costs to transmit data from Hubble to the end user - i.e. to the data archive which scientists can access. This is difficult, so I had to make some conservative assumptions.”

Dr Bannister estimated the cost of the data from Hubble could vary between £8.85 and £85 per MB- much cheaper than the £374.49 per MB cost of transmitting one MB of text.

He concludes: “Hubble is by no means a cheap mission – but the mobile phone text costs were pretty astronomical!”

Source: University of Leicester

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User comments : 12

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5 / 5 (3) May 12, 2008
a lot of people pay 12p per text..
4 / 5 (4) May 12, 2008
Information services should be organized as utilities, not for-profit enterprises.
2 / 5 (6) May 12, 2008
The impact of this article is dramatic. Presumably, the point is in the last sentence%u2026 %u201Cthe mobile phone text costs were pretty astronomical!%u201D
Ergo, should our culture endore yet another preposterous waste of money? How much does our killing cost in Iraq?

4.6 / 5 (7) May 12, 2008
This is so blatantly obvious, I don't see the point of the article, or anyone's surprise to it.

The hubble is just transmitting one way, to a ground based reciever.

Cellphones trasmit via multiple towers/relays/decoding/encoding/international/satalite uplinks... which all cost money to maintain.

Lets see more useful articles on this site please?
not rated yet May 12, 2008
ShadowRam: Agreed!

You pay for convenience, period. Of course it's way overpriced, but so is coffee and fast food. At least they included some numbers so you got an idea of the scope.
3.7 / 5 (3) May 13, 2008
I agree with ShadowRam, the comparison just doesn't make sense. If you'd like to compare SMS to satellite communications, compare it to something like OSCAR. http://kennethfin...nse.html
4 / 5 (4) May 13, 2008
In the Philippines, the cost of an SMS is 1 peso, which is around 1p. They use the same infrastructure, so why is the price 5 times higher in the UK?
3.3 / 5 (3) May 13, 2008
Yeah, another meaningless study.... Seems more fit for passing thoughts while drinking a soda than any part of academia.
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2008
This is a riot. Completely laughable. They are comparing apples with oranges. The hubble rate excludes the infrastructure costs of launching and maintaining a satellite. Hmm, now lets exclude infrastructure cost for the cell phone...
This is a big reason why some academics lose credibility when they talk with the business world.
Why not compare text costs with sending the message via the moon or via mars. What a joke.
They should compare commercial rate for 2 way satellite communications. These take into account all the entire infrastructure cost. I can assure you that the cost is more, otherwise we would already be using it!
3 / 5 (2) May 23, 2008
"Information services should be organized as utilities, not for-profit enterprises."
Lets make them operate like the government; the government does everything much more efficiently than a for profit company.
not rated yet May 24, 2008
Information services should be organized as utilities, not for-profit enterprises.

Sure, if you want it to be even more expensive and wasteful just remove competition.
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2008
In the Philippines, the cost of an SMS is 1 peso, which is around 1p. They use the same infrastructure, so why is the price 5 times higher in the UK?

Because UK construction workers would refuse to work for the same wages as people in the Philippines, cost of suitable land is higher, rent for sticking cell transmitters on suitable buildings in a UK city is higher. It's quite likely taxes and worker safety requirements are higher as well.

And because you'll get more protests from NIMBY's with imaginary microwave radiation allergies and other rebels without a cause.

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