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What Are Shared Short Codes And Why You Need Them

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Published: Jul 21, 2023

If your organization or company wishes to send thousands of SMS’ every day, a ‘shared short code’ has been the primary means to do so. But this will soon change. 

Here’s all you need to know about shared short codes, how they work, why they will go away, and what you can replace shared short codes with. 

girl-on-call-what-is-shared-short-code
Jon Austin from Pixabay

What is a shared short code?

An SMS short code is a special number system provided by carriers that allow your organization or company to send and receive a high volume of SMS texts. Short codes are 5-6 digit numbers rented for commercial use.

The main difference is that personal long numbers will be flagged as ‘spam’ if you try to send so many messages from them, whereas short codes are pre-verified for bulk texting, so they will be delivered.

Examples of how short codes are used include OTPs, promotions and discounts, and alerts. 

One cannot buy a short code. Short codes are leased from the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) which maintains a database of available, reserved, and registered short codes. 

To rent or lease an individual short code can be expensive, going for around $1000 to $1500 a month. To save on costs, it is better to go for a common ‘shared short code’, being used by hundreds, if not thousands of businesses at the same time. 

Businesses and campaigns use unique keywords to distiguish their opt-ins. Keywords too, are registered and rented, to avoid accidental sharing between multiple organizations. You promote your shortcode and keyword together, asking folks to send the word to your number, thus opting in to your communications.

For example, company CXY sends ‘Message CXY to 12345 to avail a 40% discount’ while company OPL sends ‘Send OPLHELP to 12345 for more information’. Both use 12345, but with unique keywords. 

Case Study: Here’s how MN350 used text messaging to take further action toward climate justice.

telephone-dialler-what-is-shared-short-code

Photo by Markus Spiske

Are shared short codes going away?

The short answer? Yes. 

The long answer? Shared short codes were being phased out since 2020, with all major carriers deciding to not create new ones from 2021, and closing down older ones as their users quit. 

You cannot rent a new short code anymore. However, dedicated short codes, A2P 10DLC and Toll-free numbers are still your options for messaging on a large scale.

But first, let’s look at why shared short codes were sunsetted and why that’s a good thing for your business.

Why have carriers banned shared short codes?

Shared short codes are mostly used for marketing and promotional purposes, but there is a lack of control over the messages sent due to various factors. This lack of control and oversight can lead to non-compliant or spammy messages, causing regulatory concerns. Concerns like:

Opt-out keywords apply to all using the shared short code 

Customers have the right to opt out of A2P messages. Usually, by messaging ‘STOP’ back to the same shared short code. However, since quite a few companies use the same short code, a customer who unsubscribes from one, will automatically be unsubscribed from every company that uses that short code. 

Violations by one leads to a ban of all using the shared short code 

While carriers try to verify the businesses that use their short codes, thousands of companies may be using the same shared short code at any time. A violation of the rules by one of them will result in the block, ban, or suspension of that shared short code, disrupting the service for all the companies that use that shared short code.

Spam is overwhelming legitimate shared short code using businesses 

While it is true that shared short codes are customized, customers end up receiving hundreds of spam messages from the same shared short code, which is proving to be a major menace, and one that all sides wants to see an end to. Ending shared short codes (which are relatively easier to set up and cheaper) is seen as a major step to ending SMS spam. 

Phishing attacks target customers using shared short codes: 

Imagine a customer who is used to ‘Text VOTE to 12345 to support XYZ’. One day, they receive a message ‘Text TEN to donate to 12345’. There is a high chance that they will send the reply, not realizing that the first and the second are two different companies. Phishing scams like this are becoming common, where scamsters are using the shared short code system to get money, private details or credit card information from users.    

Clubbing shared short code messages makes for bad user experience: 

SMS’ are arranged in your phone by contact. If you get several messages from companies using the same shared short code, your inbox will club them together. This makes for a bad user experience since the receiving user does not have a unique thread for each brand. 

junk mail-what-is-shared-short-code
cattu from Pixabay

Transitioning from shared short codes

With shared short codes going out of business shortly it is highly recommended that you switch your efforts to either a dedicated short code, a 10DLC number or a toll-free number. Here is an explanation of each, and how they work for you. 

Dedicated short code

A dedicated short code gives exclusive access to the number and is not shared by any other customer. There’s no limitation on keywords you can choose either, so you can be as imaginative as you want. 

They come in two types:

  • Random Short Codes: You have no control over the number assigned. CallHub’s service will cost you approximately $500/month.
  • Vanity Short Codes: You can choose the number you want, usually a series of repetitive numbers or numbers that spell your name on a phone keypad or anything else. CallHub can arrange the same for you for approximately $1000/month.

Create a free CallHub account and submit a request for a dedicated short code. The process usually takes 6-8 weeks. You can get more details about this service here. 

10DLC numbers

10DLC is here to replace shared short codes. 

Application-to-Person, 10-Digit Long Code (A2P, 10DLC) is a new messaging solution that allows businesses to send text messages from a 10-digit number in the US.

What is a 10 DLC?

The earlier system for sending messages from 10-digit numbers was not stable, reliable, and secure. Plus, it could not deal with large volumes, so most attempts to use a 10-digit number by a business get instantly tagged as spam. 

But the new 10DLC system allows A2P texting at volume and overcomes, or at least curtails, most of the issues shared short codes face (listed below). 

An A2P 10DLC number is a number registered by an organization or business for a specific use case. This number is vetted by carriers and thus they are less likely to mark your number as spam or filter out your messages. We cover more details below.  

Mobile carriers have rolled out major changes affecting who can send texts and how they send them. That new system, as mentioned above, is the A2P 10DLC system. 

These changes will result in better deliverability and response rates – as these numbers will not be blocked as spam and, unlike short codes, are not going redundant. 

As per the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA) guidelines, any text (bulk or one-to-one) from a business is considered under A2P (application-to-person) texting. All such texting campaigns must use a registered 10DLC number.

The Campaign Registry (TCR) manages the registration of 10DLC messaging campaigns, working with texting carriers. TCR also assigns a ‘trust score’, which dictates how many messages you can send per minute. 

Registered 10DLC campaigns can get:

  • Higher Messages Per Second (MPS) by ‘trusted’ numbers than previously used long code numbers. 
  • Increased deliverability, with fewer instants of being blocked or marked as spam.
  • Better responses from contacts since 10DLC requires consent to be received.

CallHub is now an official TCR partner, so we can complete this registration for you. Sign up today to get started. 

woman-on-call -what-is-shared-short-code
Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay

Toll-free numbers

Toll-free number services strengthen customer relationships and can help improve customer retention rates. It allows customers to call your business for free, and you can still send messages from the number. 

Of course, the biggest advantage is this is the cheapest option and is usually bundled in with any messaging services you may contract.

A good option for those not in a hurry to grow or looking to speak to people more directly. 

Short Codes vs. 10DLC vs. Toll-Free Numbers 

Off the bat, dedicated short codes can take up to six weeks to be registered and are the most expensive, costing close to $1000 a month or more. 10DLC has an easier registration process and can be running in 3 business days. It is also cheaper than dedicated short codes. Toll-free numbers are free, but it takes upto 15 days to be registered. 

That being said, here are the specific advantages of each and which one suits a business, a nonprofit, and a political campaign.  

Dedicated Short codes advantages: 

  • Can send the most number of ‘messages per minute’ among all three.
  • Strongly verified, so it has higher delivery rates and is rarely blocked as spam. 
  • Easy to remember and memorable for the receivers – which is better for marketing.

Dedicated short codes best use: 

For businesses with a higher budget who want to send out reminders, OTPs, and mass marketing campaigns. The focus is on reaching the highest number of people in the least amount of time – one-way.   

10DLC Advantages: 

  • A long number with a local code generates higher response rates. 
  • It is much cheaper than dedicated short codes, as low as $15 per month. 
  • Easier to set up than dedicated short codes, with a lower wait time.
  • Can be used to text and call with the same number. 
  • Can be used to receive replies from recipients and can be used for longer conversations. 

10DLC best use:

For non-profits and political campaigns, who need to speak to people, collect feedback, and reach out to tens of thousands of people in a time-bound manner. This will cost a decent amount, but is still cheaper than dedicated short codes and gets better response rates.   

Toll-Free number advantages: 

  • Is generally the cheapest option offered by mobile carriers and communication providers.
  • Is entirely exclusive to you, and as an ‘800’ number, will be memorable for a long time.

Toll-free best use: 

For small businesses, who cannot afford large budgets, but do not have a huge client list either. This slow-and-steady approach can get the job done.  

woman-uses-mobile-phone-what-is-shared-short-code
Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

CallHub Recommends

The best of both worlds here is the 10DLC. The system is fast, safe, and maximizes reach. Plus, it allows you to have a meaningful two-way interaction through messages or calls. 

CallHub is an official CSP (Communication Service Provider) partner of TCR. This means we can register your brand, campaigns, and use cases and get you 10DLC numbers that you can use on CallHub’s texting campaigns.

You can contact us, and our experts will initiate the process.

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