Are sneaky text messages costing you more?

Submitted by Abi on 3 February 2015 - 11:22am
Emoticons and other sneaky things that are increasing your phone bill

Most of us have at some point or another experienced bill shock resulting from roaming charges. But there are plenty of other things pushing up your phone bill that you may not be aware of.

This week it was reported that a customer had been charged £1200 by EE for using emoticons, little smiley faces and the like, in her text messages. Unbeknown to her, and many others, if you have a Samsung phone these little emojis can convert your free SMS text message into a picture message, or MMS. Far from being free these messages can in fact cost up to 40p each, depending on your network

And it's not just adding a heart or smiley face that will change your free text into a picture message. While the inclusion of emojis converting to MMS seems to be a more of a problem for Samsung phone owners, you can see from the list below there are plenty of other things that will convert your SMS into an MMS. 

How to avoid converting your text message into an MMS:

  • Don't use smiley faces or emoticons - these are the cartoon style icons. Besides, what's wrong with a good old fashioned side smiley face anyway? :)

  • Don't send long messages - text messages can vary in length from 160 to 360 characters. Some phones have a character counter which displays how many characters you've used in your text message. If you're sending a long text send it as two separate messages instead.

  • Don't include attachments - adding pictures, sound, videos, drawings, or locations will all count as an MMS

  • Don't send texts to large groups - Sending a group text to 25 or more people will be classed as one MMS - so if you need to send a text to a large group, make sure you send it in batches of 24 recipients or less.

  • Don't include contact cards - type your contact details into a text message instead.

  • Don't send text messages to email addresses - if your contacts are synced, through Facebook for example, check you don't select your recipient's email by mistake. 

  • Don't use subject headers - does your text need a title? Probably not so leave the subject header out.

So, should you call up your network to complain? Not really. Though your network should make it clear to you what you will be billed for, it's actually down to your handset settings. However if you do find yourself with a bigger than expected bill it's a good idea to speak to your provider, they may be able to reduce the amount. 

If you are being charged for services you didn't intend to use then check your manufacturers guides for information on enabling or disabling services on your specific device. 

For Samsung owners there is plenty of advice online about changing your Message Input Mode settings to Unicode, or changing your MMS Creation to restricted. In our experience with a Galaxy S4 this doesn't work. Fortunately, you can set an alert to notify you if you do inadvertently convert your text to an MMS.

From your Home screen go to Messages > Settings > MMS alert to set the alert. The next time your text converts to an MMS you should get a message saying 'converting to Multimedia Message...' flash on screen, so look out for this: 

Some manufacturers including Apple let you enable or disable your MMS.

From your iPhone's Home screen, tap  Settings > scroll down to and tap Messages. To enable, drag the MMS Messaging switch to ON. To disable, drag the MMS Messaging switch to OFF.

If you are using an iPhone make use of Apple's iMessage to avoid any charges. This is similar to WhatsApp in that it sends pictures and texts over wifi or uses your data allowance so you won't be billed, unless you've run out of data. To make it clear which mode you are in, the send button and text bubbles will be green if you are using SMS/MMS and blue if you're using iMessage. 


If you do want to send picture messages then you can buy MMS bundles from the networks. Vodafone offer the best deal with 100 messages for £2.50. However, if you want to save your cash our advice is to use iMessage if you have an iPhone or go for an app like WhatsApp that lets you send as many pictures and emoticons as you want free of charge over wifi, or included in your data allowance if over mobile internet.     

Have you noticed anything else pushing up your phone bill? Let us know.