Twitter concedes to UK SMS pricing madness

2 minute read

Twitter announced this morning that they’re stopping their free SMS updates in the UK. I’m actually surprised it took them this long. It’s simply not possible to deliver SMS for free in the UK, the mobile networks charge too much.

This has been a common rant in the offices lately, so I thought I’d explain why…

SMS is the golden goose for the mobile networks – a huge stream of revenue that they never originally anticipated and that is charged well over the odds to end users.

Let’s take a quick look at the maths:

An SMS message takes up 256 Bytes of data, that’s why you can only have 160 characters in a message.

That means in 1 GB of data allowance you could send 3,906,250 text messages.

UK networks charge around £3 for 1GB of data transfer on their 3G data cards – they charge 10p to send a text message. That’s £390,625 (or just over 13 million % more) to send that many text messages from your mobile at their standard rate. Even at wholesale cost, it would still be well over £100,000

Given that everything ultimately boils down to bits of data flying around a digital network, there’s no justification for such a massive price discrepancy, other than that people will pay it.

OK, it was a little nuts for Twitter to offer a completely un-monetized service but they weren’t able to negotiate a deal with the UK networks, yet they have elsewhere – if the UK networks don’t open up more we could find innovation in mobile services being stifled here.