Breaking down 10-digit long codes (10DLC), short codes, and toll-free numbers

Written by Margie Kupfer on

There has been a lot of change in the US Application to Person (A2P) messaging ecosystem recently as it relates to short codes, toll-free numbers, and 10DLC (10-digit long codes). These long-anticipated changes are a critical milestone the industry has been eagerly awaiting as it will create greater trust in the messaging ecosystem. 

However, it can be confusing to know what type of messaging solution is right for your business. You may be wondering what the differences are between the different types of A2P messaging sender IDs, and which work best for your company and use case. Each option has its benefits and limitations, but one of these could be better suited to your business needs than the other, so it’s important to understand the main differences between them.

Key considerations for the messaging solution should include your use case, volume, throughput, delivery tracking, and registration costs, as well as any additional capabilities you may need such as voice or MMS.

What are short codes?

A short code is a phone number, typically between five and six digits, used to send and receive text messages. It allows your customers to receive marketing communications and promotions, as well as interact with your brand by engaging in workflows that handle typical customer use cases. 

For example, if you’re a retail pharmacy, your customer can interact with your short code to complete routine tasks such as requesting prescription refills or signing up for pick up reminders (e.g. Text REFILL to 12345 to refill your prescription). Or, if you’re a retailer, you can promote your short code for customers to gain access to exclusive deals (e.g. Text SUMMER to 67890 to receive 40% off your purchase). 

What are 10-digit long codes?

A long code, on the other hand, is a phone number with the same length as standard mobile or landline numbers (typically a 10-digit number in many countries). In the past, business messaging traffic over long codes was sent over the carriers’ P2P networks, which limited them to very low throughputs and restrictions on use from the carriers. With the release of 10DLC, carriers in the US have rolled out requirements to register senders and their campaigns, which allows higher messaging throughput on 10DLCs and improves message delivery. 

10DLC numbers offer the unique benefit of a localized experience, which can be ideal for local business outreach, as it may be a number your customer already recognizes and engages with over voice. Businesses may be able to enable existing phone numbers for texting programs.

What are toll-free numbers?

Texting over a toll-free number allows businesses to engage with their customers via two-way messaging using an existing business toll-free phone number. With toll-free messaging, your customers will be able to reach out to you by text using the same number they use to call you. By simply adding “Text or Call” next to your marketing materials, you can build awareness and equity in your toll-free numbers ensuring higher customer engagement via texting. 

Additionally, toll-free numbers allow vanity codes that will make them easy to remember like 855-IMIMOBL. Although toll-free messaging is generally preferred for customer service and notifications such as account and fraud alerts, it also allows for many other use cases such as marketing and promotional offers and has a better setup time and setup cost compared to short codes.  

What are the benefits and limitations of short codes?

A short code is ideal for delivering high volumes of text messages at once. It's commonly used for marketing purposes, as it's easier to remember and more recognizable, especially if it's promoted in printed materials, at large events, and on television. With high throughput, text messages sent via a short code number can be used for bulk messaging, application-to-person (A2P), or machine-to-machine (M2M).

However, short codes are more expensive and take longer to set up than long codes. Typical setup time for short codes can be anywhere from 4-6 weeks, while long codes can be up and running in a fraction of that time. There is also a greater up-front cost to register short codes with the carriers. Short codes cannot be used for international campaigns, as they must be individually activated for each country. And, since short codes are designed to deliver MMS and SMS messages, it's not possible for customers to place a voice call to one.

What are the benefits and limitations of 10DLC and toll-free numbers?

10DLC and toll-free numbers are ideal for personalized, two-way A2P messaging solutions. Compared with short codes, which can take weeks to set up, 10DLCs have minimal setup time. The most common use cases for 10DLCs include two-factor authentication, customer service chat, troubleshooting product or service problems, providing targeted content, and gathering customer information.

While 10DLC and toll-free messaging offer many benefits as outlined above, they present some limitations that you should take into account when making your decision. The 10DLC registration process varies across US carriers and presents different limitations on throughput and daily messaging volume, and it’s important to choose the right partner to help you navigate through these changes and nuances. We’ll share more details of the 10DLC registration process in a subsequent blog post.

The bottom line

If your company's campaign requires sending a high volume of messages, it's best to use short codes. However, if you're just looking for a customer support phone number to handle complaints and feedback, it's best to use long codes. Whether you choose to use long code or short code messaging for your business communication, sending a text message is a powerful way of building strong relationships with your customers.

If you would like to learn more about how your business can use 10DLC and short codes to improve customer engagement, leave your details with us via the contact us page and we'll be in touch.