5 Free Text-Messaging Tools Ease the Pain of Data Plans

Texting can be costly for business owners paying for employee phones. Try one of these free messaging services instead.
April 05, 2012

Paying for text messages can add up in a hurry, especially if you are a business owner responsible for employees’ company-paid cell phones. One of the many free messaging services may help you lower your costs.

These services use Wi-Fi connections and the cellular data network to send and deliver messages for users. They’re supported by advertisements or other means, so users don’t have to pay per-message—or at all. So you're not hostage to the carriers’ pre-set monthly packages or per-text plans.

Even at pennies a pop, the savings mount. Ovum, a London technology-research company, estimates telecommunications companies charged customers $153 billion in 2011 for text messages.

People who have more to text are using free messaging applications and cutting into those profits. Ovum says telecommunications firms’ texting revenues were down 9 percent—nearly $14 billion—last year as users migrated to free texting applications.

Free texting apps are available for every major smartphone operating system including Apple iOS, Blackberry, Android, Windows and Symbian. And the apps often offer significant new features and improvements compared to the carriers’ texting plans.

Should you consider a free texting app? Sure. Just be aware that anyone you want to text has to have the same app. The apps are easy and quick to download and install. Here are some options:

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is a good choice if you're hooked on Facebook and texting, especially if you're texting people on Facebook. It's not as useful for people who don’t spend a lot of time on social media, or for those who don’t have the majority of their texting contacts on Facebook.

This app lets you zap an instant message to someone you're connected with on Facebook easily, even if you don’t know their phone number. On the downside, your text messages become part of your Facebook news feed, so these conversations will be more public than regular texts. You can get Facebook Messenger for free for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices.

Apple iMessage

iMessage is a new feature in Apple’s iOS 5 and only works on Apple products. So you can only iMessage other uses of iPhones, iPads or iPod Touch devises. IPhone and other iOS users don’t need to download an app to run it, however. If you have iOS 5, you have iMessage. In a step up from standard texting, you can get receipts showing that your message was received and has been opened. You can also do group messaging.

iMessage is the easiest messaging app to use. The software automatically changes any message you’re sending to a supported Apple device into an iMessage. It only works on supported Apple devices. So for messages to Android and Blackberry users, you'll have to rely on your monthly carrier's texting plan.

Blackberry Messenger

Blackberry Messenger is arguably the most full-featured messaging app. BBM, as it’s known to its army of fans, is a separate app (unlike Apple’s iMessage) but usually comes pre-installed on RIM smartphones. This makes it easy for entire companies to embrace cost-free texting among their own ranks. To use Blackberry Messenger, you have to have a Blackberry data plan and Blackberry ID. You can still send regular texts to non-Blackberry devices.

BBM has powerful group-building capabilities. You can snag contacts from several sources, including other apps such as Foursquare, and scan bar codes. Then you can build groups for sharing messages as well as photos, calendars and other items. And you can tap in up to 2,000 characters in a single message.

Textfree

Textfree from San Jose, California, startup Pinger is reported to be one of the most-installed non-native apps on Apple iOS devices. The number of texts sent through it every day make it America’s top texting provider, according to the company.

It’s a favorite among youngsters with iPod Touches and iPads that aren’t connected to the cellular network. With this free app and a Wi-Fi connection, they can text and even talk like any smartphone subscriber.

It has won Apple hearts and minds, but Textfree also runs on Android and Windows phones. Textfree is supported by advertising, so there is no charge for unlimited texts and calls. Users must register a local phone number in order to text and call, but the service works with phones in the U.S. and in more than two dozen other countries.

Whatsapp

Whatsapp is a venerable player in free texting and it supports many platforms. It runs on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows and Symbian devices. Like the others, Whatsapp can create groups to exchange unlimited messages, including video and audio.

It enables pre-written notes to texters, saying for instance, that you are tied up at the moment. It sends notifications when correspondents view texts. And you can block selected contacts. You can also see when recipients are typing to prepare a response to your latest missive.

Free texting apps have caused enough pain to the telecommunications companies that they are developing messaging services that provide many similar functions using software that comes built into phones.

This initiative, dubbed “Joyn” could disable the incompatibility hurdle if the historically uncooperative manufacturers—especially Apple—can get on board. Joyn is rolling out in 2012 in several foreign countries, but no launch date is set for the U.S. Until then, at least, free-texting apps will keep finding ready users among those who love to text, but hate to pay.