What fits in a €5 megabyte?

Surprisingly, the answer to that question is: the same amount as fits into your €0.001 MB that you pay for your broadband connection. Also, the second part of the answer is: not a lot.

Welcome to the bizarro-world of mobile packet data pricing. The vast majority of operators in the world still employ volume-based charging on a service that normal users have no way whatsoever to tell how much it’s going to cost: mobile packet data. Not only that, but compared to the real costs incurred, the prices charged in e.g. Finland are outrageous. While the call prices in Finland are among the cheapest in the world, data prices don’t exactly follow the same trend.

Trying to find something positive, at least in Finland the operators haven’t been restricting your access to the Internet for a while; they are content charging “only” the outrageous fees. But in many other parts of the world, this domain of mobile data is even more screwed up. This is a world where simple ideas such as – oh horror – letting users browse the Internet have been considered dangerously futuristic and unrealistic. Slowly but surely the walls of this strange behaviour are coming down, as witnessed by 3 UK opening up access to Internet web and wap-sites. Of course it’s still only the sites they want you to see, but still. On the other hand we’ve still got operators like T-Mobile who are having a very difficult time understanding that something as simple as open e-mail access is not evil.

The walled garden model of mobile operators is like the ancient BBS model, only without the regular links to other BBSs. It’s a model that even companies like AOL abandoned years ago. It’s about time these walls came crashing down.

Anyhow, when we finally do have unrestricted access to the Internet in addition to the walled garden services, a problem remains in both domains: pricing. And it’s not just about the high prices but also the understandability of pricing: the average subscriber has no clue how much different activity consumes data and thus, how much it costs. So below are some examples of just how much data various things consume and what the transfer charges alone would be at an illustrative €5/MB:

  • Visiting a mobile-optimized text-only page such as http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/teksti/: 28KB, €0.14
  • Visiting a single web page, for example http://www.mtv3.fi/uutiset/: 230KB, €1.12
  • Downloading an mp3 song or watching a streaming news transmission for a few minutes: 3-5MB, €15-25
  • Downloading a simple Java-game of which, btw, you’re also charged separately for the game itself: 500KB: €2.5 just for the joy of getting the thing you just bought.
  • An e-mail with a simple attachment: 300KB: €1.5

Now if the operators advertised the 3G services like that , I wonder if people were so interested in the new services anymore..

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2 Responses to What fits in a €5 megabyte?

  1. Anonymous says:

    At least some smaller operators like DNA Finland or Saunalahti offer basic gprs for a bit cheaper (€1,50 per megabyte).

    Most operators also offer different packages with acertain amount of data transfer and a monthly fee for so-called heavy users. It would be interesting to know how well those actually work, or are people just paying even though they don’t get anywhere near the amounts of data transfer that are included.

  2. Jon Farmer says:

    I have been totally turned off 3G. High cost, lack of network access and crap content. I would use 3G a lot if they charged a decent fee and I could SSH,POP,SMTP to anywhere etc.

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