Tech Talk: Cutting your texting tariff

Cost cutter: Smartphone apps offer cheaper ways than SMS to communicate.
Cost cutter: Smartphone apps offer cheaper ways than SMS to communicate.
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A mere 15 years ago, hardly anyone had sent a text message or knew what one was, but within two years of launch we were collectively firing off a billion a month.

But technology never stands still – and, though your mobile phone company would prefer you not to know, there are better, cheaper alternatives out there.The ease and convenience of the universal SMS (Short Message Service) system makes it easy to overlook its one disadvantage, which is the cost of using it. Take a look at your own invoice: if you’re in the habit of sending lots of texts to the same few people, you could save pounds by switching to another system entirely.

Programmes like WhatsApp and Skype use your mobile data or wifi connection, not your phone signal, to communicate, so there’s no cost per message. And because a few lines of text uses relatively little bandwidth, they’re unlikely to eat heavily into any data allowance you may have. As long as the people with whom you’re communicating install the same app, you can talk all day. WhatsApp, with its ability to share your location via Google Maps, conduct group chats and include pictures and short videos in your messages, has proved a particular favourite, despite the ungrammatical name. However, its $19bn acquisition by Facebook earlier this year has put some users off.

Google Hangouts, another app relying for its name on redundant American idiolect, does a similar job and comes pre-installed on most new Android phones.

Viber, Line and Samsung’s ChatOn are also worth considering; all work on Apple and Android phones (though not all on Blackberry) and are all free to try. WhatsApp charges the nominal sum of 99 cents a year from the second year onwards. In all cases, it’s not necessary for message recipients to have the app open to see your texts; they’ll get a notification.

Skype, too, can be used in the same way. The popular voice-over-internet phone calling service is also great for sending quick texts and has been around for so long that it’s almost as universal as texts themselves. Now owned by Microsoft, Skype comes embedded in all new Windows phones.

Not everyone will need an alternative way of sending texts, but we can all benefit from reassessing the way we pay for them. Demand a better deal or take your business elsewhere.