You really, truly don't need to pay so much for text messages anymore

Is there no way to stop paying your carrier for Magic Profit Packets?

Text messages literally cost cellular companies next to nothing, to the point where they couldn’t really tell you how much “profit” they make off each message. That’s because text messages are sent through the same “control channel” that your phone is already regularly using to keep contact with nearby cellular towers. So why are carriers still charging customers, especially those with data plans, exorbitant amounts to send 160 characters at a time?

The answer, of course, is that charging something for nothing is hugely profitable, even if that business is starting to fall off. In the meantime, you still need to text message people who have all kinds of different phones, smart or otherwise. Is there no way to stop paying your carrier for Magic Profit Packets?

There are three good ways, actually, to stick it to the by-the-character man.

Get your text-iest friends to use Kik

There are a lot of text-message-like apps out there. The best one to my eyes is Kik Messenger. It’s available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and even Nokia Ovi phones. If all you do is convince your smartphone-touting spouse or best friend to install Kik and use it to message you instead of text you, you’ll cut way, way back on messages, maybe to the point where you don’t need an all-in-one plan. Kik uses your data plan to send text, links, emoticons, and even pictures back and forth, which is just how messaging should work in 2012.

But Kik is not a make-do service for the SMS-averse–it’s actually better. It shows delivery and read receipts, so you know when someone has picked up your message, or needs to be pinged again. It does a great job of compressing photos down so they transmit quickly, but take up very little data from your plan. And it’s a great tool for maintaining a conversation with a group of people, whom you can find and add through your address book, or your Facebook or Twitter log-ins.

Get a Google Voice number

Google Voice is Google’s phone control service. One of its best features (my favorite, in fact) is that you once you’ve picked up a Google Voice number (or somewhat awkwardly ported your existing number), you can send text messages through your browser, or through a handy app available for iOS or Android. This is how I cut out my own data plan, so that now the only text messages I receive are, sadly, junk offers for FREE CREDIT FIXES!.

A quick warning, right off: if you send a lot of picture or MP3 messages to your friends by text message, this isn’t the best option. Only Sprint customers get their attachment-having MMS messages forwarded by Google at the moment.

Force your fellow iPhone owners to upgrade

My wife touts an iPhone. So do many of her friends. It’s been fun to glance at her text messages with friends and gradually watch them turn from green to blue. That means they’ve gone from paid to free, or from “Messages” to “iMessages,” as friends upgrade to iOS 5. Apple phones and tablets running iOS 5 and higher can message each other for free, with photos included.

Obvious, huh? But consider how easy it is to set up and run an iPhone these days without ever having to plug it back into your computer, where one would see the reminder that iOS 5 is available. Many people go weeks or months without cable-syncing their iPhones. If you know someone with an iPhone 4 or 4S, nudge them as firmly as you can toward upgrading and living the free text life.

What did I miss? How have you beaten the bloody prices on text message bundles?

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