Hosted short code FAQ


Emily Champion


What are short codes?

Short Codes are five or six digit numbers that businesses use to send high volume, high throughput text messages to enhance effective communication with their customers. Short Codes are also used for opt-in promotions to help with consumer interactions for a certain product or campaign. The opt-in promotions are usually associated with an SMS keyword, then in turn, the consumer will receive notifications, offer codes and more, via that same short code. MMS messages are possible to send via short codes, but it must be provisioned with their messaging provider to access this feature.

What are the types of short codes?

There are two types of short codes; shared and dedicated.

Shared short codes exist when a single short code is shared between multiple businesses. AT&T noted the amount of spam and lack of consistent regulation within a shared short code system, and announced in 2019 that it would no longer approve shared short codes. Because of this, shared short codes are being phased out, and only dedicated short codes will be sanctioned in 2020.

Dedicated short codes are used by only one business, meaning that one business is responsible for and controls the use of that short code. There are also two types of dedicated short codes:

  • Select or vanity short codes are selected specifically by a business. Vanity short codes are utilized so that the businesses can pick a set of numbers a consumer will remember more easily.
  • Random short codes are distributed arbitrarily, as those numbers are available.

Why do businesses use short codes?

Using short codes allows businesses to send high-volume, high-throughput messages to their consumers, unlike consumer numbers, which are designated for low-volume, low-throughput P2P (person-to-person) messaging..

Consumers today prefer to communicate through text messaging instead of taking the time to make a call, especially if they think they’ll have to sit on hold or hunt through menus to find the person they need. Businesses are adopting short codes in the hope of increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty by providing better customer service. Examples of promotions or marketing campaigns used via short codes include:

  • Shipping notifications: These could be notifications from a delivery service like FedEx or UPS.
  • Service notifications: Think of all the texts you’ve gotten from any maintenance company who’s doing work on your house, letting you know “Jeff is on his way!”, or from your lawn care provider that your services have been completed and is awaiting your feedback.
  • Appointment reminders: Simple text reminders from healthcare providers, salons, or automotive services.
  • Promotional Campaigns: Prime examples of these would be voting for your favorite singer on American Idol, or texting “PIZZA” to receive a free delivery coupon.

How much do short codes cost?

In the United States, short codes can be leased for 3, 6 or 12 month terms. Dedicated short codes cost $1000 per month for a vanity or select short code, and $500 per month for non-vanity, random short codes. Short codes are a limited resource, so the leasing system and higher price point are deterrents for businesses that may want to just reserve short codes without using them.

Where can I get short codes?

Businesses can find a list of short code numbers from the United States Short Code Registry. If you want to look up more information on which businesses own specific short codes, and how they are being used, you can check out the United States Short Code Directory. This site will also let you know which short codes are available for purchase, and assist you in the buying process. The SMS provider, or an SMS API provider, like Bandwidth, can also acquire the short code for businesses and this is usually the best path to take.

How long does it take to get a short code?

Each carrier must approve a business’s campaign before sending traffic over a short code. Each carrier provides their own guidelines for short code messaging, but all carriers generally regulate short codes based on the Short Code Monitoring Handbook created by the CTIA, as well as the Mobile Marketing Association, which requires all businesses to ask permission (opt-in) before reaching out to an individual. The reason for these consumer protection regulations is to help with the number of unwanted texts reaching the end user, and helping businesses create more successful campaigns.

Do short codes work internationally?

Short codes do not work internationally and are country-specific. For example, a US short code can only send and receive messages in the US through the carriers that approved that short code, and the same rules apply for Canada and the UK, as well as other countries that support short codes. If you need to reach a business or market internationally, make sure to do your research on that country’s short code system first, and know that there are other options such as toll-free, local numbers, and alphanumeric sender IDs depending on the country.

How is Bandwidth involved with short codes?

Bandwidth currently leases and hosts US short codes. Learn more on our short codes page. We have a number of resources to help guide you through the process as well, including how to get a short code, what opt-in requirements look like, and how hybrid messaging solutions utilize short codes.

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