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How to Incur a $35 Million Roaming Charge on AT&T

Steven Blum
1

We all know roaming charges are an absolute and total rip-off, but just how bad can they get? A blogger by the name of Ryan Kearney recently calculated how much it would cost to send a full HD film via text message while roaming, and the result is a number so high I nearly spit out my drink.

It's complicated, but if you calculate how much AT&T charges per byte, you can estimate how much it would cost to send a GB of data in a text message. Basically, you've got to find the number of bytes in a GB (1,073,741,824) and divide that by the number of bytes in a text message (140). You get the number 7,669,585, which is the number of text messages you'd need to send 1GB of data. Since AT&T charges $.50 per SMS message, it costs a whopping $3,834,792.50 to send a GB of data via text message. Multiply that amount by 4.6GB, which is the size of the average HD film, and you've racked up $35,280,091 in data overage charges.

I know what you're thinking: who would ever send an HD video via text? But that's not the point: the point is that text messages use a miniscule amount of data, and cost carriers virtually nothing to deliver. The myth that roaming is actually expensive for carriers is one of the greatest lies we've ever been sold. And yet, carriers continue to charge up the wazoo for what is an incredibly cheap operation.

Yes, it's true that some carriers must pay to use other provider's towers in order for your Verizon phone to work in Spain, but that's not true in all cases. Take T-Mobile for example: it's one of the largest networks in Europe, and yet it's no cheaper for an American T-Mobile subscriber to send text messages while taking a European vacation. 

Here's the full calculation by Ryan Kearney:

Now lets do the math here one step at a time:

  • 1024 bytes = 1 KiB
  • 1024 KiB = 1 MiB
  • 1024 MiB = 1 Gib
  • 1024 * 1024 * 1024 = 1,073,741,824 bytes per GiB

Now that we know how many bytes are in 1GiB, we can divide that number by 140, the number of bytes of data you can send in a text message.
1,073,741,824 / 140 = 7,669,585 (rounded up)

This means we have to send 7,669,585 SMS messages to send 1GB of data (and this is assuming you can represent any set of data in an SMS message which I don’t believe you can, but that’s besides the point since it would just made this already large number even larger).

Finally, since AT&T charges $0.50 per SMS message, we just multiply our number of messages by $0.50 to get…
$3,834,792.50

If you were sending that 1GiB of data to another AT&T customer, that amount would be
$7,669,585

What’s this mean? If you wanted to send a typical HD video from one AT&T cell phone to another via SMS messages, assuming the video is 4.6GiB in size, it would cost:
$35,280,091

So there you have it. $35 Million to send a 4.6GiB HD movie from one phone to another using SMS while roaming.

(Top Photo: WIRED.com)

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