updated 4/25/2011 4:49:51 PM ET 2011-04-25T20:49:51

It’s hard to deny the sheer convenience of text messaging: punch a few buttons, hit send, and you’re instantly in touch with your friends and family without all the unnecessary small talk that a phone call demands. Unfortunately, that kind of convenience comes at an equally inconvenient – and unreasonably high – price.

While texting might seem like a fairly affordable method of communication, when you look at the numbers, the majority of American wireless carriers actually charge what would seem to be an exorbitant amount for a service that costs them next to nothing.

Because the actual size of a standard 160-character text message is so tiny – around 160 bytes of data – service providers are able to transmit them wirelessly for mere fractions of a cent. The fact that carriers charge customers without a messaging plan 20 cents for each text, then, is ludicrous, and allows them to rake in massive revenues each year. If the same rate were applied to data plans, for the sake of comparison, it would cost more than $5,000 to download a single 4MB song.

"The companies will do whatever they think the market can bear,” said Art Brodsky, communications director of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy organization.

“If they think they have captive customers who are locked into contracts and will pay for increased text messaging, they’ll definitely do it."

Considering a jaw-dropping 6.1 trillion text messages were sent worldwide in 2010, according to the International Telecommunications Union, it seems unlikely that text message rates will be going anywhere but up in the near future.

Thankfully, with the rise of smartphones and apps, there are now a handful of methods to send and receive texts for free. Below, we highlight five options worth considering.

Google Talk

Platforms: iPhone, Android, Blackberry

Price: Free

Pros: Allows users to chat with their Gmail contacts via a simple, clean instant messaging platform.

Cons: Only works with people who have Google accounts. Cannot send photos, video or other files through Google Talk. On the iPhone, Google Talk is web-based and therefore has somewhat limited capabilities as it is run through Safari.

Blackberry Messenger (BBM)

Platforms: Blackberry

Price: Free

Pros: Able to send and receive messages, photos and videos to multiple contacts at once. Notifies sender when recipient has received and read messages.

Cons: BBM is available only for Blackberry users, though rumor has it that might change in the near future.


Platforms: iPhone, Android

Price: Free

Pros: Provides users with a phone number that allows them to send an unlimited number of text messages for free. On iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, users can send texts over wireless and make phone calls by either paying for minutes or earning them by downloading other apps.

Cons: Cannot receive pictures or videos.


Platforms: iPhone, Android, SMS-enabled Phones

Price: Free

Pros: Similar to TextFree, gives users a number with which they can text for free. Able to start group conversations among several contacts, with everyone receiving all replies. Sends and receives pictures on iPhone. Available for non-smartphones.

Cons: Sponsored by advertising. Picture messages unavailable on Android and non-smartphones.


Platforms: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Mobile Web

Price: Free

Pros: Lets users chat with friends through a wide range of networks, including AIM, Google Talk, Windows Live and Yahoo! IM.

Cons: Annoying advertisements. Contacts must have an account with one of the supported platforms and must either be online or have the app running in order to be messaged.


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