We all know that text messaging is overpriced, but the NYT has pulled back the technological shroud to find out that the prices aren't just bad, they're practically extortionate.
The article goes into depth about how text messages are transmitted. In short, texts are unsurprisingly transmitted between towers over the main, wired network in the same way as cellular data, a portion of the journey that, considering the tiny amount of information in a 160-character text, costs very close to nothing.
Surely then, the carrier incurs costs to transmit the messages from towers to handsets. After all, this is the wireless part of the journey, and wireless costs lotsa $$$, right? No:
Text messages are not just tiny; they are also free riders, tucked into what's called a control channel, space reserved for operation of the wireless network.
That's why a message is so limited in length: it must not exceed the length of the message used for internal communication between tower and handset to set up a call. The channel uses space whether or not a text message is inserted.
You read that right: for carriers, sending a text message from an extant wireless tower to your handset is more or less free. If it's any consolation, the article also mentions that the Senate Antitrust Committee is kind of looking into the matter, so we may see relief (or even retribution) within the next 10-40 years. [NYT via BB Gadgets]