Text messages vs. cell phone calls

  • #1
Math Is Hard
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My mother has always insisted that I have a cell phone with text capability. She says that she's heard that sometimes when cell phone service is not available, people will still be able to send text messages. I believe she's thinking that after a natural disaster, like an earthquake, all the phone circuits will be busy with frantic phone calls, but I will still be able to get a text message to her.

Is there any truth to that? As far as I know, the text data will be traveling across the same circuits as voice data.
 

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  • #2
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Is there any truth to that? As far as I know, the text data will be traveling across the same circuits as voice data.
As far as I can tell SMS is a fully integrated part of the GSM and 3G models. I would find it hard to believe they have separate systems to deploy each. I used to often receive txt messages a day or two late. Either way I would find it hard pressed to find a non txt capable cell phone these days.
 
  • #3
Math Is Hard
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Thanks, Greg. I guess it is a non-issue now. She had gotten this idea about the texting a few years ago and I don't know where it came from.
 
  • #4
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Seems people use txtng where their batteries or signal might be too weak.

http://scitech.blogs.cnn.com/2009/09/08/trapped-girls-update-facebook-instead-of-calling-cops/
Trapped girls update Facebook instead of calling cops
Things worked out OK for the girls, ages 10 and 12, since a friend saw the post, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. But authorities are worried about the girls' preferred means of emergency communication. They should have called 000, Australia's version of 911, a fire official told the news service:
...
As Mashable points out, this isn't the first time someone has used a social network to call for help. In May, an Atlanta city councilman was worried his mobile phone battery might die and posted to Twitter instead of calling the cops about a woman he found in distress. Mashable says he posted this message: “Need a paramedic on corner of John Wesley Dobbs and Jackson st. Woman on the ground unconscious. Pls ReTweet”.
 
  • #5
DaveC426913
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I have done this too. Sending out a call is hard on a low battery. But a text message can still be made. The composition can be made offline, instead of while the phone is blasting its signal, and the signal itself lasts only a second or two.
 
  • #6
cristo
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Like Greg, I don't see how the two are separable. Over here (in the UK), at midnight on new year's eve, phones get jammed so it's pretty much impossible to make or receive a call. I've also send or had text messages sent to me at that time, which don't get through until several hours later. Obviously, this isn't proof, but I'd imagine if the two were different, then the texts would be delivered immediately.
 
  • #7
DaveC426913
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Like Greg, I don't see how the two are separable. Over here (in the UK), at midnight on new year's eve, phones get jammed so it's pretty much impossible to make or receive a call. I've also send or had text messages sent to me at that time, which don't get through until several hours later. Obviously, this isn't proof, but I'd imagine if the two were different, then the texts would be delivered immediately.
Your hypothesis assumes that the premium is on network bandwidth. Others are proposing that the premium has nothing to do with the network but is instead on cellphone power.
 
  • #8
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Math Is Hard,
There might be something to what your mother is saying. I work for a company that sells a product that works with text and audio/video in IP telephony. The text messages are conveyed through the signaling layer via Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), while the audio and/or video parts are conveyed through the media layer via Session Description Protocol (SDP). I'm not familiar enough with cell phones to say that this is how they work, but it's possible they use a similar scheme.
 
  • #9
cristo
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Your hypothesis assumes that the premium is on network bandwidth. Others are proposing that the premium has nothing to do with the network but is instead on cellphone power.
I thought the premise in the OP was that the networks were busy with frantic phone calls in a disaster? :confused:
 
  • #10
Borek
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On several occasions on New Years eve I was able to send SMS but not able to initiate the call - so in my experience that makes sense. Doesn't mean it makes sense in general.
 
  • #11
DaveC426913
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I thought the premise in the OP was that the networks were busy with frantic phone calls in a disaster? :confused:
Yes. I think we're agreed on that one.
 
  • #12
turbo
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'Way out there, but having texting capabilities could be really handy in a hostage/domestic violence situation if the victim could send out an SOS quietly without being noticed. Calling 911 is not an option in some situations, and the victim could be dead before the cops show up if the perpetrator knows about the 911 call.
 
  • #13
berkeman
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Yes, both voice and txt use the same digital circuits and infrastructure. The difference is that txt takes much less data bandwidth to get through, and can be re-tried multiple times if a receiving phone is getting spotty reception.

It's also standard protocol here in earthquake country to shut down phone traffic after a major earthquake, to make the bandwidth exclusively available to emergency service providers for a time. I would guess that they will let standard txt messages start going through before standard voice calls clog up the network.

During a recent Gulf Coast hurricane, a friend of mine was totally unable to reach her sister by phone (land line or cell). But her sister was able to get a txt message out (with about a 2-3 hour delay) that they were doing okay.
 
  • #14
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Thanks for the replies!
 
  • #15
Evo
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Your mother might have confused the walkie talkie service available on Nextel cell phones here in the US. Emergency responders use Nextel because even if the cell phone towers are down (Katrina) they can still call each other via walkie talkie over a distance of 3 miles without cell phone service.
 

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