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FaceTime Audio Versus Voice Cost Analysis

Years ago many pundits and technophiles lamented the lack of a data-only cellular carrier. Because the carriers could price different modes of communication, be it voice, data, SMS, differently it means they could adjust their profits over time as usage of these different channels shifted so they could stay ahead of any curve.

The argument for a data-only provider is that all communication can be transmitted over data and we can have one single method of communicating on a mobile phone and thereby turning providers into dumb pipes like a cable internet connection. Why count our minutes and SMSs being sent and received when they can all go over the same connection and we can be charged for our cumulative usage?

It should be no surprise that this utopian arrangement is what the largest carriers have fought so hard against by continuing to manipulate their plans on a recurring basis to confuse and disorient the consumer who neither knows how much of each category they use nor how much per unit each cost with these plans.

One reprieve from these smoke and mirrors pricing schemes has been the development and increasing popularity of digital-only text communication platforms such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, et cetera. The actual technology for them has existed for years but it was the popularity of mobile data and ubiquitous smartphones that allowed most of us to discontinue using SMS.

The last bastion of this death grip on pricing shenanigans is voice communication. Once again, being able to communicate with voice through the Internet has been available for a long time but it is the popularity and market penetration of FaceTime and other VoIP platforms coupled with fast cellular transmission and MVNO pricing from the likes of Ting that now makes this idea for a data-only cellular provider close to a reality.

Being a recent convert to Ting for a cellular provider, where they only charge for what you use, I got to thinking whether using FaceTime Audio or regular voice minutes would be more cost effective. This exercise can still apply to other carriers if you change the unit prices for minutes and data.

Cost Analysis

Ting's cost-per-minute on their lowest and most expensive tiers, relatively, are $0.03 per minute while data is $0.03 per megabyte. Within those tiers you get 100 units (minutes or megabytes) before bumping to the next tier.

What we're trying to determine if you can get more FaceTime Audio minutes for the same price for voice minutes so the next step is to determine your data rate for FaceTime Audio calls. You can get this information rather conveniently by going into the Phone app and finding a FaceTime Audio call and tapping the information icon to the right. 

The FaceTime Audio data rate is between .75-.80 MB per minute and I presume this is standard for most people but you can certainly calculate it yourself.

Knowing this rate is less than a megabyte per minute and the fact that, on Ting, the price per unit for minutes and megabytes is exactly the same draws the conclusion that FaceTime Audio calls cost less than voice minutes on Ting using cellular data. You effectively get 20 - 25% more minutes for your dollar when using FaceTime Audio with Ting's pricing.

For the pedantic types, the price per unit between minutes and megabytes is not consistent throughout the tiers and at the highest tiers the megabytes become even cheaper to the tune of 13% less than voice minutes. The more you use the more you save.

Filed under Finance