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SMS long codes vs. short codes (with infographic)

(Updated June 2022)

Every business has a unique product or service offering, customer base, and brand identity. So it’s no surprise that the way your business chooses to communicate will depend on many factors. Many opt for SMS, as it boasts high open rates, better engagement and can reach hundreds of contacts at once.

Text messaging jumpstarts two-way conversations, so customers can initiate a conversation or reply when it suits them. Plus, each SMS will only cost a few cents to send, so your marketing budget can go a long way. You can also experiment with rich content, like MMS or Mobile Landing Pages.

If you don’t need any more convincing that texting is an effective communication tool, your next decision may be choosing the type of phone number to send your messages from. In the United States, there are two options: SMS short codes and SMS long codes.

Each option has different benefits, drawbacks, and capabilities. So, let’s go through which sender ID will suit your business offering and use case best. Or jump to our comparison table to get a basic understanding of the ways they differ.

What is an SMS short code

Short codes are only 5- to 6-digits long, so they are easy for customers to remember. For example, you can prompt a large audience to text 54321 to access a discount code. They are considered a premium sending option, mainly due to their high throughput (up to 400 MPS).

Did you know

By throughput, we are referring to the speed of an outbound text message. Another term used to measure this is called Message Per Second or MPS for short.

There are three terms you may come across when it comes to short codes:

  • Dedicated short codes: each business gets its unique number to send text messages from
  • Vanity short codes: a business chooses a sequence of numbers that resonates with their brand
  • Shared short codes (discontinued): multiple businesses simultaneously use the same short code with different keyword triggers; learn why carriers removed these here.

A business must first register its use case and get vetted to send messages from a short code. This process can take 3-12 weeks, so it’s best to plan ahead. Furthermore, administration fees can add up quickly, and the short code itself will cost a few hundred dollars.

Benefits of dedicated short codes

  • Easy to remember (5 to 6-digit numbers)
  • Can handle high volumes (up to 400 MPS)
  • Supports both two-way SMS and MMS
  • Ideal for SMS marketing, such as opt-in campaigns

Speak to a short code expert

Our team can help you register and take you through the vetting process.

Did you know

Application-to-Person (A2P) messages are business-related SMS and MMS, such as marketing campaigns, mass alerts, and customer communications, sent from a mobile service provider.

What is an SMS long code

There are two types of long code numbers, both of which are 10-digits long: 10DLCs and toll-free numbers. 

Long codes can be voice-enabled, which means they can be used for both voice calls and two-way texting. Similarly, an existing landline number can be text-enabled. This creates a seamless customer experience, as there is a single point of call to reach you. 

How do you know if a 10-digit long code or toll-free number will suit your needs better? We’ll go through how each works to help you decide.

How does a 10-digit long code work?

Local 10-digit phone numbers were initially only used for person-to-person communications and not for mass texting. Applying for a 10DLC for A2P messaging became an option in early 2021. The process is quicker than that of a short code; you can start sending within 2-3 weeks.

Did you know

Person-to-Person or Peer-to-Peer (P2P) messaging refers to sending a text from one mobile phone to another. For instance, texting a friend about your weekend plans is a P2P SMS and not an A2P SMS.

Firstly, your business will be given a Trust Score (also referred to as a vetting score) by The Campaign Registry (TCR). It is mandatory to declare your use case in order to avoid a fine; carriers will look out for those sending non-approved A2P messages over a P2P route.

Your throughput will ultimately depend on your brand’s vetting score. Tier 1 carriers vary in the way they assign throughput. For example, T-Mobile may put a limit on daily messages you can send, while AT&T may lower your Throughput Per Minute (TPM).

Top tip

While vetting your brand is not mandatory, it will help the carriers assign a higher throughput to your 10DLC campaigns. We recommend completing the process to obtain your “Trust Score”.

Benefits of 10DLC

  • Retaining your local number can increase trust
  • Throughput up to 30MPS (depending on vetting score)
  • Supports two-way texting, MMS, and voice communication
  • Suitable for marketing campaigns and customer service

Chat with an expert

Our team can help you with your 10DLC application.

What does toll-free texting mean?

Toll-free phone numbers begin with 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 and 833. While many are familiar with toll-free landline numbers, not everyone knows they can quickly become text-enabled. This means you can retain your existing number, which creates a better customer experience.

Alternatively, you can obtain a new toll-free number for your business in minutes. To start sending, all you’ll need to do is fill in a short online form. The carrier’s approval process takes only 1-2 weeks. They are also more affordable than 10DLCs and short codes.

Did you know

The application process for TFNs is new (rolling out September 2022). If you already use a TFN for texting, you’ll need to fill out a form and get it verified to keep using it. Learn more here.

Toll-free texting can be used for a variety of use cases and can handle medium-volume sends. Depending on the carrier, you can expect to send around 30 messages per second. Unless you need to send thousands of messages at a fast rate, a text-enabled toll-free number suits most businesses.

Benefits of TFNs

  • Affordable, fast, and easy to obtain
  • Sending from an 800 number can increase trust
  • Throughput up to 30MPS (depending on carriers)
  • Supports two-way texting, MMS, and voice communication
  • Ideal for customer service, notifications, reminders, and marketing

Talk to us about TFNs

Learn the ins and outs of TFNs and get help with your application.

10DLC vs. toll-free SMS vs. short code

Use our helpful comparison table below to help you decide which option is right for your business. Or, let us know if you’d like to be spoken through this.

SMS long codes vs SMS short infographic

Top tip

You can integrate text messaging into your existing software tools, such as Hubspot, Shopify, and Netsuite.

Final thoughts, further reading

In brief, the power of text messaging can effectively connect you to your audience. The type of number you choose to send from will depend on how large your audience is, the frequency and speed of your sending needs, as well as much time and budget you are willing to part with.

Our team of messaging experts are happy to talk you through the difference between a long code and short code. You can also find out more about dedicated numbers by catching up on past blog posts.