Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

Cell Phones: Data Plans, Text Messaging, Twitter – Revisited

by Eric Stewart on Jun.18, 2009, under Cell Phones & Providers, Technology

Every once in a while I check out the stats for my site(s) using a variety of utilities available either through Google or my current provider, HostGator.  Today I took a gander at the search terms that are bringing people to my various blog posts, and noted that some of them were questions about cell phones, texting, and data plans that weren’t exactly answered in my previous post on this topic.

Here are some of the questions and hopefully the answers (or links to answers); I’ll be adding to this particular blog post as time goes on to answer more questions as they pop up on the stats – and please note that misspellings or poor grammar are almost certainly due how the question popped up in my stats:

  • What is the difference between text messages and data for cell phones?

    This is understandably a difficult concept for the average person.  Text messages on many phones can look a lot like emails (if those phones are so capable).  The short hand of this is that practically (I would guess anyway) all cell phones out there can get text messages.  Not all cell phones can utilize data plans.

    Here’s the technical aspect of things (at least, somewhat more technical): Data plans give your phone access to the Internet in some way (if the phone is capable of doing so). You should be able to view (to some extent) web pages and possibly get email (but this is service dependent, of course). Text messages, on the other hand, use Short Message Service (or SMS) in order to get the text message to the phone. This really can have nothing to do with the Internet, and is most typically used for mobile-to-mobile messaging. However, certain services (like Twitter) can have numbers you can send SMS messages to that will interpret your message and tie them into some Internet service. This is made further confusing in that most cell providers provide a way for users to get text messages sent to them via special email addresses (IE,

    So, to summarize, text messages (in general, anyway) don’t need to involve the Internet and are delivered by a built in system that’s part of (or added on to) the basic ability the phone has to send and receive calls. Data plans are used for email, web browsing, and many special applications (made confusing in that while you can utilize Twitter using text messaging, the likelihood is almost certain that any Twitter app for a phone would use the data network; other examples would be Facebook apps, or even GPS mapping apps – which need the data connection to download current maps).

    Further confusing this issue is that there is the Multimedia Messaging Service that allows pictures and possibly video to be sent. It is considered an extension of the SMS protocol, but some cursory browsing shows these capabilities being lumped in with data plans.

  • If you have a free texting plan is texting to Twitter free?

    I can only guess that the answer to this is “yes” (providing you’re not using an app that would use your provider’s data network). I don’t see why not; but you might want to check with your particular cell phone provider to be sure. Since texting is usually separate from data (I can conceive of a cell provider tying them together), you don’t need a data plan to use Twitter (and to cover the other search that asked this question, your tweets should be free).

  • How do you choose a texting plan? and How do you choose a data plan? and How much is texting if you don’t have a texting plan?

    Both of these were addressed as best I could last time. There is no really easy answer to either one. I can tell you that it appears as if Sprint is doing away with “incremental” texting plans and including free, unlimited texting as part of most of their (particularly data) plans. Prices for text messages when you don’t have a texting plan vary from provider to provider. I would assume something along the lines of $0.20 a text message on average – but I’m really just talking out of my butt here. Also, prices of data plans probably vary a bit from provider to provider. Originally my Blackberry Data Plan with Sprint ran roughly $40 (unlimited data use).

    I recently looked at current “unlimited data/texting” plans with 450 minutes (or combining plans with add ons to get that) on the websites of Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T (with an eye to using Blackberry phones on Sprint and Verizon, and an iPhone on AT&T). While your own results may differ, Sprint had a nice simple combo plan that was the cheapest, with free night minutes starting earlier than any one else (EDIT 7/28/09: As I discovered today, this is true only if you are using strictly BIS and not a BES on a BlackBerry – BES capable service through Sprint is a $20 add on). An iPhone plan would have been the same – except that unlimited text messaging was an add on that bumped the price up $20 more (and I text a lot with my girlfriend, who is on Sprint). Verizon wasn’t easy to figure out but looked like I’d start at $20 more before even looking at the nuts and bolts of the plan.

  • Does a cell phone have to have data plan?

    No – unless you want to access web pages, get email, or utilize any service that isn’t covered under normal cell phone usage (EDIT: to more clearly answer a related question I saw in a later review of my search stats, web browsing uses the data network, but isn’t necessarily the only way a phone will use the data network). What exact this entails may very well vary from provider to provider. I would assume all Twitter apps for phones use the “data” network.

  • How do you text from a cell on a data plan? and Texting alternative for data plans?

    Assuming you meant that said cell phone does not have a text plan, only a data plan, if said phone has email access of some sort, you should be able to divine some magic email address you can send email to that will send a text message to a given phone number. These email addresses are provider specific.

    I know of no way to get text messages via email or a data plan (that doesn’t include texting). You’re on your own there. The only suggestion I might offer is to figure out how to do some kind of Instant Messaging app on your phones. You might do some Googling – I have this itch in my brain that says texting to and from AIM is possible … but I can’t swear to it.

  • Twitter apps for Sprint cell phones? and Texting Twitter from Blackberry?

    This can be phone specific. I use TwitterBerry for my Blackberry, and I got TinyTwitter working on my girlfriend’s LG Rumor. I don’t necessarily “endorse” either one – it’s just what I found with a little bit of Googling. I am 99.9% certain that both require the use of the “data network”, meaning you should have a data plan to avoid ugly bandwidth charges on your phone bill.

  • Can you use a Blackberry phones for just phone and texting?

    It’s highly unlikely that a provider would let you do this if you purchased the phone directly from them. The only time I’ve heard of someone doing this is when they got the phone from someone used, and just activated it like a regular phone.

  • What is Twitter and how does it differ from texting?

    A text message goes between two specific people – you pick a phone number you want to send a text message to, and it goes to just them. It is a function specific to cell phones, for the most part.

    Twitter, on the other hand, doesn’t just go between two people. You create an account and choose who you follow. However, there’s no rule that says that those people have to follow you. You can send Tweets to someone, but anyone looking at your Tweets will see the message (not to be confused with “Direct Messages”, which are private messages between two mutual followers). It’s possible to make your Tweets “protected” (which prevents non-followers from looking at your tweets), but if you let someone follow you, they can still see your “directed Tweets” (but not your Direct Messages).

    Mind you, you don’t even need to use a cell phone to participate on Twitter – you can just do all your tweeting and tweet reading via the web. The best explanation I can provide that really lays out what Twitter is would be insufficient when compared to the Wikipedia entry for Twitter.

I hope this has helped answer some of the questions I’m fairly certain I haven’t yet answered.

EDIT 2009/07/04 9:41pm ET: Yes, on this Independence Day, I am sitting at home playing on the computer. Looking at the stats for my site(s) shows that is highly popular, with this page being the most visited. If you’ve made it down to here and you still have a question that wasn’t answered, please feel free to send me a message on Twitter. Just start the message with @EricDives and I’ll respond as soon as I see it.

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Hi! Did you get all the way down here and not find an answer to your question? The two preferred options for contacting me are:
  • Twitter: Just start your Twitter message with @BotFodder and I'll respond to it when I see it.
  • Reply to the post: Register (if you haven't already) on the site, submit your question as a comment to the blog post, and I'll reply as a comment.

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