Aggregation

SMS Long Code vs. Short Code: Pros, Cons, & How to Choose

Learn more about the different ways your business can send and receive text messages

Ty Seager
Manager, Demand Generation
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

The A2P (application to person) messaging space has changed significantly over the past few years as 10-digit long codes (10DLC) and toll-free sender IDs now need to adhere to the same SMS compliance regulations and approval process as short codes.

The U.S. carriers heavily regulate text messaging for businesses with the help of the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) and CTIA best practices. These regulations can be complicated to navigate, and we want you to understand the different ways you can send messages.

There are three ways for businesses to reach consumers via SMS:

  1. Long Codes
  2. Short Codes
  3. Toll-free numbers

If you are looking to launch, grow, or optimize a mobile program, it is vital to strategically pick what sender ID to use before sending text messages to your customers.

Here is everything you need to know about long codes, short codes, and toll-free sender IDs to ensure you make the best decision for your business.

Long Codes

What is a Long Code?

A long code is a 10-digit code that has been approved by the U.S. carriers for businesses to send messages to their consumers. For a long time, businesses were sending messages on U.S. long codes, these were 2-way long codes that were never registered or approved by the carriers. These were run on peer-to-peer routes, so texts were being sent the same way messages are sent from you to your friend. This gave the carriers no visibility into what businesses were sending. The carriers and The Campaign Registry began to put guardrails and compliance around long code messaging.

Along with this new compliance and monitoring from the carriers came the fancy new acronym — 10DLC. 10DLCs are run over approved routes giving the carriers visibility into what businesses are sending with assistance from The Campaign Registry. Long codes allow businesses to send messages with approved content (i.e., embedded links with branded shortened URLs) that are less likely to be flagged as spam. Since the carriers do not want businesses using unregistered long codes, you can expect higher pass-through surcharges for non-approved long codes.

What is the expected reliability and speed for long codes?

Long codes have less reliability and slower speed when compared to short codes.

How do you register and get approved for a long code?

  1. Create an account with The Campaign Registry.
  2. Register your Brand, Campaign use case (i.e., marketing vs transactional), and associated long codes.
  3. Provide your SMS aggregator with the registered Brand ID, Campaign ID, and associated long code.
  4. Aggregators will notify you when technical setup has been completed.

This provisioning process is like the highly regulated approval process for U.S. short codes. If you want to ensure your messages get delivered and don’t get blocked, it is better to use a registered long code for your brand.

Pros and Cons of long codes

Pros

  • More cost-effective
  • You have the option to enable voice, SMS, and MMS on the same phone number

Cons

  • Looks like a regular phone number and may get confused with personal numbers.
  • Less reliability and slower speed.
  • Long messages are not supported. When sending over 160 characters, the message will arrive as two separate messages on the customer's handset.

Types of brands using long codes

Since long codes are more cost effective and have limited reliability and speed, most companies using this type of sender ID are smaller brick and mortar stores and businesses. You will often find that dental practices, eye care practices, salons, and local pizza shops opt for long codes.

Short Codes

What is a short code?

A short code is a 5-digit or 6-digit number, allowing brands to have two-way text message communication with their consumers via a recognizable sender ID that arrives on the consumer’s handset. Short codes are the gold standard for brand recognition and reliability. If you are launching or optimizing a mobile program with a large mobile database, a short code is essential.

What is the expected reliability and speed for short codes?

The expected deliverability, reliability, and speed depends on what aggregator you use and how they are connected to the carriers. If your aggregator is directly connected to the carriers, like Vibes, then you can expect better deliverability, reliability, and speed of messaging.  Aggregators are often routing messages for multiple brands, so if other brands are sending texts at the same time, this can influence speed of deliverability. Servicing and transactional-based messages are prioritized ahead of general marketing messages, so deliverability can often be impacted by the type of messages being sent. It is essential to communicate with your aggregator or aggregators to determine how they are connected to the carriers.

How do you register and get approved for a short code?

The average time to provision a short code has risen to about 16 weeks, but with the right partner like Vibes, you can get a short code approved, provisioned, and certified by the carriers in as little as 4 weeks. Here are the necessary steps to get a short code provisioned and approved by the U.S. carriers for your business.

  1. Purchase a short code from the U.S. Short Code Registry. The leasing fee is $500/month.
  2. Complete a program brief and submit it to the carriers for approval.
  3. Once the program brief is approved, the campaign will be submitted for testing and certified by the carriers.

Pros and Cons of a Short Code

Pros

  • Consumers are more likely to recognize your brand since messages will be coming from an identifiable sender ID
  • More reliable than long codes and toll-free numbers for SMS and MMS
  • U.S carriers provide a handset delivery receipt, meaning delivery confirmation is sent upon arrival to the handset
  • It is easier for customers to opt-in and remember a short number, allowing you to grow your database faster
  • You can send more than 160 characters to arrive as one long message on the consumer's handset

Cons

  • Not voice enabled, so customers are not able to call the number
  • More expensive as they have a higher monthly lease fee
  • Longer provisioning timelines

Types of brands using short codes

Since short codes have the greatest reliability, most businesses using short codes are larger enterprise brands sending large subscriber-based campaigns with anywhere from many thousands to a few million subscribers. Any brand that wants to gain credibility and send timely and secure text messages will use a dedicated short code. From enterprise retail brands to a new insurance startup, short codes are used by companies that care about their reputation and take mobile messaging seriously.

Toll-Free Numbers

What is a toll-free number?

Toll-free numbers are text enabled 8XX numbers that allow text messaging over: 800, 833, 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844. This includes being able to text enable your 800 number for U.S. and Canadian mobile numbers.

On May 15, 2022, carriers began to require businesses to complete a sender verification as part of the toll-free provisioning and approval process. This new requirement is another way for the carriers to have visibility into what messages are being sent, allowing them to maintain a cleaner ecosystem and ensure every user provides proper consent. Prior to this requirement, spam was prevalent, and the carriers are regaining control through this sender verification process.

What is the expected reliability and speed for toll-free numbers?

Toll-free numbers have less reliability and slower speed when compared to short codes.

How do you register and get approved for a toll-free number?

  1. Purchase a toll-free number through a Responsible Organization (RespOrg). Toll-free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis by RespOrgs and they have access to a toll-free database that contains information regarding the status of all toll-free numbers.
  2. Get your number, complete the letter of authorization from your aggregator, and complete the sender verification form.
  3. Aggregators will notify you when your program has been approved and provisioned.

Pros and cons of toll-free numbers

Pros

  • You have the option to enable voice, SMS, and MMS on the same phone number

Cons

  • Long messages are not supported. When sending over 160 characters, the message will arrive as two separate messages on the customer's handset, which may run up against compliance regulations regarding message send frequency.

Types of brands using toll-free numbers

Like long codes, toll-free numbers are mostly used by small businesses and mom-and-pop shops. Smaller companies tend to opt for toll-free numbers since they are more transactional based.

How to Choose What’s Best for Your Business

Here’s what to consider when deciding the right SMS code to use for your company.

  • Long Codes: Long codes are more cost-effective than short codes, but come with less reliability and slower speed. If you’re a smaller brick-and-mortar business with a relatively low volume of customers you’re trying to market to, long codes are a more efficient option.
  • Toll-Free Numbers: Like long codes, toll-free numbers are a more cost-effective option where reliability and speed lag. If you’re a small business owner who only needs SMS for transactional purposes (e.g. texting customers their receipts), toll-free may be the best option for you.
  • Short Codes: While short codes may be the most expensive at $500/month, if you are launching or optimizing a mobile program with a large number of SMS subscribers a short code is essential to be able to successfully deliver a high volume of messages.

The Bottom Line

When launching and managing a mobile program, you have multiple ways to send messages and many aggregators to choose from. This decision should not be made lightly as your brand reputation is on the line. 

As was highlighted, messaging reliability, speed, and cost greatly differ between long codes, short codes, and toll-free sender IDs. So, make sure you choose what is best for your business.

By being one of only four Tier 1 aggregators in the United States, Vibes can rapidly scale to help you meet increased message volumes and greater throughput, ensuring ample, reliable capacity and speed of messaging on all codes no matter what.

Connect with Vibes today to learn more about using Vibes SMS aggregation services for your business.

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Ty Seager
Manager, Demand Generation
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