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Free SMS On IPhone 3G Via AOL IM Client 267

Glenn Fleishman writes "Jeff Carlson has discovered that you can bypass the 20 cent per message or $5 to $20 per month fees for SMS (text messaging) with the iPhone 3G and AT&T by using AOL's downloadable instant message client for iPhone 2.0, which is free. Just like the full-blown AOL IM system, you can add buddies that are the phone numbers of cell phones you want to send SMS to, and you establish a two-way conduit. The recipient still pays for SMS (if they have a fee) on their end, but if it's another iPhone user, you could coordinate with them via SMS to use instant messaging instead."
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Free SMS On IPhone 3G Via AOL IM Client

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  • Re:Oh lord (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BPPG ( 1181851 ) <> on Sunday July 13, 2008 @02:34PM (#24174093)
    This really isn't a big deal. The big deal will be Apple's reaction to it. Will they like it, since people might be encouraged to use AOL on iPhones as an alternative to SMS? Or will they kill the AOL client and make iPhone users pay for SMS?
  • Good to know (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Talsan ( 515546 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @02:46PM (#24174197) Homepage

    I never knew that AIM could send SMS messages to mobiles. Does anyone know if this works for any other country codes? --It doesn't seem to work for Norway (+47) numbers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 13, 2008 @02:49PM (#24174215)

    It seems like in this semi-competitive market, one of the providers would've made the unusual move of switching to free SMS. I realize it's pure profit for them, but it seems like they could make up the difference with the influx of new customers, and potentially less voice bandwidth usage.

  • by Coward Anonymous ( 110649 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @03:23PM (#24174491)

    Apple's lame excuses aside, the reason there is no "background processing" or notification capability in the official SDK is so as not to harm AT&T's SMS cash cow.
    Look at the thought and effort that AT&T put into SMS pricing tiers. It would be worthless if there was a hint of SMS like capability in the SDK. A lot of money says Apple intentionally crippled its SDK/phone capabilities to keep SMS around.
    I don't know if e-mail is truly push on the device (i.e. it buzzes in your pocket after you've not looked it at for an hour.) If it is, then this would potentially kill SMS but I find it hard to believe.

  • Re:Ummm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @04:17PM (#24174901) Journal

    At WWDC, it was mentioned that there would be something called Universal Push Notification. Some explanation here []. It seems you will be able to push either badges (that will attach to your app's icon), custom alert sounds, or overlay text messages (I assume like MSN chat does), which will overlay any currently running app.

    Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any reference to this on their developer web site, which miserably has no search functionality. Yes, that's right, I am also developing for the iPhone. What have I developed? Why, the iVibe. Exactly what it does is left to your imagination. No, it is not yet on the Apple store. Coming soon, for better or for worse.

  • by c0d3r ( 156687 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @04:50PM (#24175109) Homepage Journal

    My point is that text traffic only takes less than 1k total traffic and can cost $.25. Voice traffic can be $.25 a minute which is ~64k per second. Picture costs about the same as text but its about ~1Mb of traffic. Video is significantly more traffic than voice, yet is often charged at the same as voice. Why is texting so expensive? Its obvious.. a revenue model.. hence the point of the discussion is "To avoid getting screwed". Anyone against this is a bigot or shareholder for the telco's.

  • Holy Cow... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheNetAvenger ( 624455 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @05:25PM (#24175325)

    This means that people that have been doing crap like this for the last 5+ years must be geniuses...

    Everyone I know has been going to (formerly MSN) and using the WAP browser version of Messenger for years. And now that someone figured this out on the iPhone they are brilliant? WTF...

    Is this stuff really that 'cool' to the SlashDot readers, or has Apple just replaced all the Slashdot crowd with their drones while we weren't looking?


    Holy insanity...

  • Re:Oh lord (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nbert ( 785663 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @05:53PM (#24175501) Homepage Journal

    a flat rate system like SMS just isn't going to cut it

    Exactly the reason why they offer flat rate services. The more people have data-plans, the less it makes sense to charge for individual SMS'. In the end they will charge 5 bucks for unlimited SMS if you want it or not, because otherwise they would lose that source of revenue while data plans get cheaper and cheaper.

    Btw: For the same reason the telcos of many countries refuse to sell you DSL without a telephone line. Voip could fill the void completely and it would be even possible to implement a free system on a global scale, but it would hurt those providing access to voip services and for that reason they won't let you use it exclusively (or at least let you pay for what they don't earn the traditional way). And if you are paying for it anyways there is less incentive to switch to free alternatives.

    I love flat rates in general, but sometimes they are just designed to keep the status quo. In the end everything gets cheaper in regards to what we pay per minute, but the bill at the end of the month still is as high as 8 years ago.

    Just look at how many households still have a fax machine and you will realize how much pricing is preventing a real step forward.

  • by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @07:53PM (#24176245)

    Unfortunately there are still a lot of legit uses for SMS. Many IT departments use SMS for contacting on-call staff. When I'm on call (one week out of every six) I have the option of getting paged via SMS's to my cell phone or carrying around a Skytel pager. A lot of folks I know prefer the SMS route since it means one less gadget they have to carry around.

    Bank of America has recently rolled out a new security feature for their on-line banking that relies on SMS that they call SafePass []. You register your mobile phone number with your account and when you want to log into your account they send you an SMS with a random 6-digit code. You then have to enter that along with your PIN to log in. It provides additional security since phishers can't easily get that random code off of your mobile phone, and each code expires after 15 minutes. It wouldn't surprise me if you start seeing more on-line systems using something like this to enhance security. It's basically a poor-mans RSA SecurID [] since most people have mobile phones these days.

  • by B1 ( 86803 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @08:20PM (#24176371)

    Considering the cost of SMS, keep in mind there's much more to SMS than just transporting the bytes of text. One of the things you're overlooking is the store/forward nature of SMS (for reliable delivery), as well as the per-message transactional overhead.

    With a voice call, most of the work is in setting up the connection to the person you're calling. Once that connection is established, essentially you're streaming 8K per second of data (64 kilobits / sec). None of that data gets stored anywhere for later retransmission -- the network really needs to do nothing beyond act as a pipe.

    With SMS, your message gets stored in a queue so that it can be sent to your recipient if they're not available. This message queue needs to be able to handle many thousands of transactions per second -- if done incorrectly, this can cause a significant bottleneck. You might not notice if 160 bytes worth of voice data get scrambled, but a missed SMS message might cause you significant problems. If your phone is turned off, you miss your calls -- maybe you'll get a voicemail. With SMS, you'll get your message when you turn the phone back on.

    The per-message transactional overhead can be quite substantial. The carrier has to generate billing events for sending / receiving messages. They may need to query or debit a prepaid system. They may have per-subscriber whitelist / blacklist rules which need to be applied to every message. All of these systems cost money to purchase and maintain. These also apply to voice calls, but in that case, those costs are covered either by your flat-rate local service charge, or by your per-minute long distance charges.

    One other thing is that delivering SMS messages does actually cause quite an engineering problem for cell providers. SMS messages are typically delivered via the overhead control channel, which is the same channel used to do call setup/teardown, handoffs between cell sites, and other tasks. The overhead control channel is typically limited in capacity, and many carriers have engineered enough capacity for regular call activity. SMS has exploded in growth over the past few years, to the point that it is exhausting this overhead control channel for some carriers. Carriers have to spend considerable effort to reengineer their networks, so that they are able to keep up with both SMS traffic as well as regular call handling traffic.

    The bottom line is that SMS is not a data transport -- SMS is a communication medium, an alternative to a voice call or email. People often send an SMS when a voice call would be inappropriate -- for example, in church, in class, at dinner, etc. The value of SMS isn't in the transport of the bits/bytes, but in conveying a message without having to talk, and without needing to be next to a computer. As for comparing it to a data transport, nobody sends files via SMS. It would be far too slow and expensive.

    I agree that 10 cents / message is a little steep, but then, I've paid for a bundle to control costs. Most carriers offer unlimited SMS plans for reasonable prices, or smaller bundles at lower rates. Even though carriers are making money hand over fist for SMS, usage continues to grow exponentially. Even if you consider it a ripoff, there are millions of active SMS users who don't. If you don't want to pay for it, don't use it. :)

  • Re:Oh lord (Score:3, Interesting)

    by onefriedrice ( 1171917 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @10:27PM (#24177039)

    The big deal will be Apple's reaction to it. Will they like it, since people might be encouraged to use AOL on iPhones as an alternative to SMS? Or will they kill the AOL client and make iPhone users pay for SMS?

    Apple's reaction? You mean AT&T? Why would Apple care since they already approved the app in the first place?

    Fortunately, seeing as how there is also a VoIP app approved by Apple which allows calls via wifi, it doesn't look like refusing apps which bypass AT&T's services was part of their agreement, although I'm sure AT&T would like it to be.

    In short, yes Apple will like people using the AOL IM client because it's a benefit to those who purchase their product. AT&T may not like it, but who cares?

  • Re:Oh lord (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geminidomino ( 614729 ) * on Monday July 14, 2008 @10:54AM (#24181367) Journal

    Pretty sure the carrier IM client actually USES SMS on the backend. The client on my Windows Mobile phone (Moto Q9c) loves to hard-wedge my phone until I need a master reset to recover. Last time I did it, I was still "logged in" to AIM even though I didn't have the IM client reinstalled (and opted not to again). I kept getting SMS messages that looked basically like headers directing to AIM messages, until I logged in on my PC and told it to disconnect all other locations.

    Not a big deal, since I have the unlimited text plan, but it does make the messages flaky, slow, and even less reliable than IM.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?