The Cell Phone "Rip-Off"

Britain's Channel 4 did a program about the high cost of cell-phone service there, and to make its point, offered a gem: it costs more to send a text message than to download the same amount of data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Catchy line, no?  Channel 4 says the calculation was done by Nigel Bannister, a lecturer in physics at the University of Leicester.  You can see his calculations in a release HERE.

I wouldn't dare to compare American cell phone bills to British ones (don't they have package deals the way we do?), but quoting the university:

"'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 [about 10 cents in the U.S.], that's £374.49 [about $730 U.S.] 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 [about $17.25] 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!'"

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