One of my primary tools for communicating with people I know personally (read: the people I know IRL and not just online) is simple message service – better known as SMS or text messaging. I do not place voice calls unless I absolutely have to. Whether I have a quick question or want to carry an all-day-long conversation with the lady friend about how fuzzy and cute cats are, I default to the Messages application on one of my phones.
No surprise there, though. That's exactly what millions of people do all day, every day. It's quick, easy and universal. Smartphone and non-smartphone users can SMS just the same.
However, I have one tiny problem with the simple message service: it's overpriced.
By most, text messaging is generally regarded as a cheap, affordable way to talk. But that's actually quite a stretch. Text messaging is outrageously overpriced.
For example, text messaging plans begin at $10 per month, which will allows the customer to send and receive 1,000 text messages at a discounted rate. If the customer were to send 1,000 text messages without a plan, it would cost them $250. This is below the average number of sent and received messages per month, so to save money, most people purchase an unlimited messaging plan, which is typically $20 per month for individuals or $30 for a family texting plan. It's better to be safe than sorry, right?
To be fair, the $20 or $30 per month for unlimited messaging isn't going to break the bank for most. However, instant messaging and alternative texting services are not all that different from carrier texting. Except, of course, that they are much cheaper. To be more concise, if I were to send and receive 1,000 messages via instant messaging, I would use roughly 1MB of data. (Instead of pulling from an allotted number of messages, instant messaging or third-party texting services like Google Voice use data.) On my 5GB data plan on AT&T, which costs $50 per month, 1MB (or 1,000 messages) would equate to roughly $0.01. Both the data consumption and price are, for the most part, negligible.
This is something the carriers don't want customers to know, else they could take a major hit in revenues from subscribers abandoning SMS for cheaper alternatives. Who wouldn't want to cut their bill by $20 or $30 each month without sacrificing any functionality?
That's exactly what I'm going to attempt to do. I'm going to quit paying for unlimited text messaging and switch entirely to instant messaging and Google Voice. Not only is it cheaper, it comes with some extra perks. For instance, I can text from the same number via my iPhone, One X or from my MacBook; I always have an online backup of all my messages; and I can pick up a conversation where it left off when switching between my current and new devices.
The problem is that it's not as easy as it may sound. Not only do I have to break my own habits (i.e.: immediately opening the Messages app to text someone), I have to break the habits of others as well. I text message a lot of people fairly regularly and it's going to take a while to relay the message to everyone that I will no longer be texting from the number I have had since I was 13.
I've been trying for months to get more and more people to text my Google Voice number instead, yet I continue to get messages on my other numbers. I've been a little lax about it until now. After I drop the $20 charge from my account, I will be more adamant about people texting my Google Voice number over the others.
The big caveat here is that most IM services and Google Voice do not support the sending of multimedia. In other words, I can't send pictures via Google Talk or Google Voice (... yet). Until Google rolls out MMS for Google Voice for all (read: non-Sprint) users, though, I have a workaround that should work just as well. (Emailing photos and sharing Dropbox links should suffice.)
I know I'm not the first person to do this, and I should have done it a long time ago. But since I'm now paying significantly more for a capped data plan, I'm open to any and all ways to bring my monthly bill down. Paying $20 to send text messages when I can do the exact same thing using the data plan I'm also paying an arm and a leg for each month just doesn't sit well with me.
Tell me, readers. Have any of you done the same thing? If so, how has it worked for you thus far? Any snags? Have any you contemplated it in the past and backed down due to the simplicity of carrier messaging?