What’s App?

Text Messaging is a big part of our lives today.  This relatively new form of communication has become common as we scramble to keep up with family, friends and business contacts.  To begin a discussion of text messaging it’s important to understand how it fits into your phone carrier’s network.

Your cell phone carrier has two networks:  one for calls and one for data.  The networks are based on a system of towers dispersed around the globe that aggregate calls and data within a specific geography (a ‘cell’ as in ‘cell’ phone) and shoot them up to a satellite (calls) or on to the Internet (data).

Text messages – which you would think are data – actually travel over  your carrier’s phone network – not the data network.  This is why you can turn off your phone’s data connection, and still receive calls and text messages.

This is also why almost any phone, smart or dumb, can make calls and receive text messages and why I recommend that you not get a smart phone if this is all you’re doing.  If, on the other hand, you are accessing the internet, checking Facebook, going to the MLS on your phone, you must have data, which means you must have a smart phone.

Bear in mind, we are talking about text messages here, not Instant Messages, which are data and travel over the data network.

We are also talking about phone calls made directly through your carrier’s phone network, not those made via Skype, Google Voice or any other VOIP platform.  VOIP converts the call to data and it happens over the data network.

Before we get too complicated to be practical, let’s stop and talk about the implications of everything we’ve said so far.

Your carrier charges differently for usage of its two networks.  Calls are usually billed in terms of minutes; you may have a monthly allotment of 900 minutes  . . . or you may have an unlimited number of minutes, but the increment is minutes.  Text messages are billed in terms of number of messages sent and sometimes, received.  Again, you may have a fixed number in your allowance or it may be unlimited. The important thing is that the network is counting the number of messages your are sending and receiving.

Data is billed in terms of the amount of data consumed, measured in gigabytes (Gb).  You may have a monthly allowance of 2 Gb of data or you may have an unlimited data plan.  When you stream a movie from Netflix to your phone, you are using a lot of data.  When you send an email – which is data – you’re using just a little (assuming you’re not attaching something huge).

Some smart phone users are employing a strategy to take text messaging out of the carrier’s phone network.  The logic is that text messages are tiny in terms of data but are billed per message by the carrier’s phone network.  Switching them over to the data network will have little impact on data usage (because they are so small) and some savings may be achieved.

Consider my last trip to Mexico.  I made no phone calls on my carrier’s phone network because the International roaming fees were astronomical.  Instead, I waited until I had a wifi connection and made calls using Skype, outside my carriers network.  I did receive and respond to text messages made over my carrier’s phone network, however, and  I paid per message for the privelege:  50 cents to send, 5 cents to receive.

If I had used an app to conduct text messaging over a data network and saved my texting until I had wifi, I’d have avoided those charges.  App?  What App?

Whats App.  That’s the app: Whats App.  It’s one of several text messaging apps that occur over the data network. It seems to be the one that’s gaining ‘traction.’  I’ve had 3 invitations to connect via Whats App this week alone.  I’ve used the service and find it perfectly acceptable for general texting with some bells and whistles that are above and beyond what I have with my carrier’s regular program.  In What’s App, I can create a group and text them all at once.  I can also send a voice recording or video over the app.

Whats App works with Android phones, Blackberries, Windows phones, those weird Nokia phones and . . what else?  what else? . . . hmmmm . .  oh, yeah, it also works with those quaint Iphones so many of you still have.  You can get the app HERE or at your phone’s app store.

When you download and install Whats App, it will quickly rummage through your contacts and tell you which ones are already using it.  I was surprised at how many of mine are already on board!

**NOTE** I am not a mobile phone guru.  I’m not a network genius.  I’m not even particularly technical.  I just use this stuff and try to understand it.  I am sure I have committed  errors in my description of how your phone works with  its various networks. If you are a phone guru or similar I’m sure you will want to jump on this piece with both feet and do the hokey-pokey.  Before you do, try to remember that this post was not written for you.  It was written for me and for every other poor average slob out there, just like me, trying to make sense out or their digital lives.  Thank you.


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