When you look at your bill for phone, wireless and Internet service every month, you can't help but feel a sense of impotent rage. The bill is always higher than what they advertised the plan for, they cram in endless mystery charges and deep down inside you know they're screwing you. And there's really nothing you can do about it.
Well, we have good news -- it's actually worse than that! Wait, did we say "good" news? Sorry.
The point is, many of the annoying things your cellphone provider does happen behind the scenes, and you'll never find it spelled out on your bill.
It was just a few years ago that everyone started getting 3G phones that could actually surf the Internet at speeds faster than '90s-era dial-up. But even 3G is going out of style. That's right, times are changing, grandpa! Now everyone's all about 4G. It's in pretty much every ad now, and every cellphone provider says its version is the biggest and best.
But ... notice how they're not citing actual speeds there? As in, actual megabytes per second or anything else you could actually make sense of? It's almost like they're taking advantage of the fact that the average person has no freaking idea what 4G is ("Wow, you can really feel the 'G' in this phone!").
Via Michael Saechang
Suggested slogan: "We didn't give an 'F,' so here's another 'G'!"
Well, the good news is that 4G isn't just some bullshit term they made up -- it's actually an agreed-upon standard set by a group called the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU. Then cellphone companies promptly went about utterly disregarding that and calling their much slower service "4G" anyway.
See, the 4G standard the ITU established is fast as hell -- it was supposed to be an on-the-move (i.e., riding in a train/car/bus) data rate of 100MB per second. Standing still, you should get a data rate of 1,000MBps. That's freaking 20 to 200 times faster than the average broadband connection in the U.S.
Goddamn! Tell us where to line up!
Ah, not so fast. The "4G" plans that cellphone companies are plastering all over their ads are a fraction of that blazing-fast 4G standard. Verizon is currently capable of 32MBps maximum (though they only offer 12MBps to customers), and AT&T's is about the same (though that hasn't stopped them from trashing Verizon's identical technology). Sprint theoretically gives up to 10MBps, and T-Mobile can do up to 30MBps. Again, compare that to the between 100 and 1,000MBps we were supposed to get.
You can't mudsling if you're both covered in poop.
So why were these companies allowed to call that shit "4G" when it wasn't even 10 percent of the standard? Well, once they started using 4G as a marketing term, the ITU actually backed down and just said "Sure, fuck it, whatever" and retroactively applied the 4G moniker to the standards the carriers are actually using. Proving once again that if you say enough stupid shit, people will eventually give in just to shut you up.
"You're saying we at the ITU won't bend over and take it? Well you, sir, are about to get a surprise!"
So now they actually can say they're 4G and be telling the truth. It'd be like if McDonald's started making their Quarter Pounder half the size and convinced the rest of the world to change their definition of a pound.
At this point, we probably text more than we talk. Americans alone send about four billion texts a day. The Pew Research Center has estimated that 72 percent of cellphone-owning adults text, usually about 10 times a day. Teenagers, because they actually have social lives, send about 50 texts a day.
And why not, it's cheap. It's like $20 a month and you can send every little thing that pops into your head to your mom, your best friend, your old third-grade teacher, your dog (you bought a phone for him just so he could read your texts) and that girl who told you never to contact her again.
"'Test results back -- it's herpes.' Annnnd send to all."
So $20 a month for a texting plan isn't bad, right? Especially when you consider that without a texting plan in place, each text costs 20 cents a pop.
Here's the thing that cellphone companies don't want you to know, though: Even the flat rate is a rip-off, because text messages cost basically nothing for them to send. Texts are kind of piggybacking on data they have to send anyway.
"Pass that to Josie, and tell Sarah on the way that she's an insufferable bitch."
When your phone is connected to a network, it operates on two different channels. One is the voice/data channel and the other is what's called the control channel. The control channel is saved for your phone saying, "Hey, I'm here!" to the tower and the tower saying "OK!" in return. It is constantly sending this traffic no matter what you do. Text messages use this channel.
Which is to say, this channel is used the same way whether a text is incoming or not. Have you ever wondered why texts are limited to 160 characters? It's because that's the maximum length of a string of data that the control channel can carry. When you send or receive a text, it's just the tower sending that instead of its usual "OK!" string. If there's no text message there, it just fills the space anyway.
The filler's nothing special, just "kill all humans" and things like that.
Even so, because texts are such tiny chunks of data, the phone companies are effectively charging you more than 7,000 percent more for a text than they do for the same amount of data downloaded as part of your regular data plan. A scientist in England found that a text costs four times as much as it would cost to send the same data from the Hubble Space Telescope.
And yet it never messages us.
It's kind of the data equivalent of bottled water. Because the total price is fairly low, you don't notice the obscene markup on what you're actually getting.
Have you ever gotten a nice, shiny new computer, brought it home, set it all up and then found out that the manufacturer felt the need to install like five different antivirus software trials (and an AOL installer, for some reason) before it even left the factory? Now you have to uninstall all of them, otherwise they bog down your system resources and bug you to buy the full version a month later.
Now imagine it was set up so that you can't get rid of the bullshit, and it took up a good chunk of your hard drive space. That's the situation with smartphones.
It also comes packaged with an odd sense of self-satisfaction, but that's usually deflated moments later.
The first time you pull your new phone out of the box and turn it on, you might find some app you don't give a shit about. And then another. In some cases, as much as 10 percent of your phone's storage can be taken up by crap -- and by crap, we mean apps that will expire after a demo period and won't let you use them further unless you pay for the full version.
OK, you say, that's the same as what we dealt with on our PCs. But the difference is that in many cases, this stuff can't be uninstalled. It will eat up a big chunk of the phone's resources -- forever. Congratulations, you've got bloatware. It can be anything from a copy of the movie Avatar to the game The Sims 3, or any number of for-pay services you will never, ever use.
"What the fuck is this? A call button?"
Mobile phone companies have discovered that they can get fat sacks of cash by agreeing to place the apps of the highest bidder on your phone. Kind of like if Ford found out that they could put a huge, permanent Burger King logo on your back window and pocket some extra cash for every car sold.
And instead of an air bag, it just has a giant inflatable cheeseburger.
Currently, this is primarily an issue with Android phones. Google gives its wireless partners a lot of freedom with their software, so those companies do what comes natural to them and abuse the shit out of it. It can also crop up on some BlackBerry (yes, that's still a thing) and Windows Phone 7 devices.
Apple seems to be the only one immune to bloatware's curse so far, but that's only because it doesn't want to piss off the crazy, aloof guys making them boatloads of cash.