With 4.5 billion SMS enabled devices and the growing popularity of SMS amongst developers, we get asked all the time – what’s is a short code, and when should I be using each? There has been a great deal written about this topic, making it unnecessarily confusing, but using SMS in your apps is not as difficult as you may think.
Before I go into the definition behind “what is a short code”, let’s look at some of the impressive data that shows how SMS can enrich your app:
The strong growth in mobile app usage has propelled it to take over the majority of digital media time spent at 52 percent, according to comScore’s Mobile App Report. With growing mobile usage and traffic, and messaging taking a larger chunk of the communication market, SMS is a valuable communication channel with your users.
When it comes to deciding between a long code vs a short code, there are a few things to consider depending on which country (or countries) you will be sending messages to and how.
A short code is a 5 or 6 digit number used to send and receive SMS messages. This is usually a vanity number used by apps and businesses who want a recognizable, human friendly number. These are 5–6 digits long and can either be random numbers from the provider or set by you.
If you are sending automated messages, need to send messages to a large audience quickly (short codes can send 40 messages per second), or need a higher deliverability rate you need a short code.
The main confusion around short codes comes down to CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industries Association) regulations.
Here’s the simple explanation:
For any and all app-to-person communications, you MUST use a short code.
Companies not compliant can receive hefty fines and decreased deliverability.
Customers must also opt-in to receive these types of communications, but SMS short codes allow replies customized by app owner – for example: reply HELP for help, reply STOP to cancel, reply YES to confirm. You can learn more about what is needed on our SMS help page.
Other benefits of an SMS short code include a number that looks more professional, is easier to memorize and is more recognizable, and upholds brand integrity, all contributing to a beneficial user experience.
You must apply for your short code, which can take time, but ultimately this
ensures your messages are delivered and your brand remains compliant when subjected to periodical audits.
So, when to use a long code?
A long code is a standard phone number used for person-to-person communications. These are readily available as no application process is required. Long codes are most often used by businesses seeking to anonymize their users’ phone numbers
|Affordable – typically $1/month||Not professional-looking|
|No carrier approval required||Associated with spam|
|Typically not country specific||Slow sending (1 message/second) as compared to short codes (40/second)|
|Excellent to enable person-to-person communications and group SMS||Greater likelihood of message interference and lower deliverability|
In the USA, you can not use long codes for app-to-user communications. In this case you need a short code.
SMS long codes are also much slower at sending messages, normally around 1 per second – thirty times slower than a short code.
|Short Code||Long Code|
|Human friendly||Much more familiar|
|40 / per second||1 per second|
|Great for A2P messages||Restricted to P2P|
|Allows for replies||Reply option varies|
|No restrictions||Limited by carrier|
|Takes weeks to apply||Readily available|
When it comes to build a positive brand reputation, SMS interactions in the US are best reserved for short codes. Not only are you ensuring your communications are compliant, your messages will be delivered and your users will never mistake you for a spammer.
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