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3 things you should know about T-Mobile’s ban on shared short codes

Nicole Culver Nicole Culver
Nicole Culver
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Momentum growing behind shared short code demise—here’s what it means for you

On September 1st, 2020, T-Mobile released their Code of Conduct as it relates to Commercial (aka business) Messaging. This document outlines T-Mobile’s preferences and requirements for application-to-person (A2P) messaging traffic on their network. At present, it would appear that  if you want to reach anyone with a T-Mobile-connected device, you’re going to need to abide by T-Mobile’s new rules.

What is a short code and why share?

For the better part of two decades, 5-6 digit short codes were the only acceptable avenue to send text messages from businesses to consumers, and—despite their longevity—they aren’t cheap. Since short codes are so cost prohibitive and have such high message throughput rates (messages allowed per second or MPS), many messaging providers would allow multiple businesses to share a single short code in order to help drive usage of the product. Think of it like sharing your HBO account with a friend and splitting the cost—a cost effective strategy but it can cause confusion if they start streaming content you aren’t interested in. 

Because of the confusion shared short codes can cause consumers, as well as the potential for spam messaging campaigns to hide in plain sight, the time of shared short codes is coming to an end, and T-Mobile is now the second major carrier, after AT&T, to outright ban them.

Define “ban”

Well, in the Code of Conduct’s section 4.6, titled Shared Codes Prohibited, they explicitly state that sharing any form of messaging number (10DLC, Toll Free, and Short Code) is prohibited. I think it’s important to note here their definition of a shared code: “when multiple Content Providers share the same Application Address given each Content Providers have capabilities to custom craft a unique content message.” Translation: Company A’s order notifications cannot be sent using the same number as Company B’s appointment reminders. In fact, T-Mobile has stated that they are refusing all onboarding of shared short codes (effective September 1st, 2020) and that existing shared short codes “will be required to migrate at a future date” to a dedicated number (10DLC, Toll Free, or Short Code). That future date, you ask? Well not until “commercial availability of 10DLC A2P Messaging” which hasn’t been announced yet. 

What does that mean for my business?

If your business owns your own messaging number, short code or otherwise, you’re fine! You are not only ahead of the game, but you should feel very comfortable knowing that your investment in a dedicated number for your brand was the right choice. But if you’re not sure if you have a dedicated number, or you know you’re sharing a number with other companies via your messaging provider, it’s time to get exclusive. 

The messaging industry has been very focused on reducing spam, fraud, and abuse and this effort to eliminate shared short codes is intended to help those on-going efforts. Many messaging providers allow for number sharing in order to increase profitability for them and affordability for their customers, but what they don’t tell you is that if one messaging program from Company A gets reported as spam enough times, the entire number will get blocked, interrupting delivery of messages for all other companies utilizing that number—yes, even important ones like Company B’s healthcare appointment reminders. 

How do they know a number is shared?

Short code applications require applicants to indicate whether they want a shared or dedicated short code, and new applications for shared codes will be denied. Even if you have an existing dedicated code or apply for a new one you are not free and clear. With short codes, there are records of campaign applications and many of those documented shared number use cases which could be looked into by T-Mobile or other carriers, particularly on migration or when updating your short code campaign. There might also be records of user complaints and spam reports that could cause a carrier to review your short code as a potential shared number. 

For new short codes, T-Mobile will be evaluating whether the short code supports multiple businesses OR whether multiple businesses can control the content sent from the code. But ultimately, we don’t know exactly what T-Mobile’s increased screening process involves, so it’s best to make the change ahead of getting blocked, especially when spinning up a new short code can take multiple weeks.  

So what do I do now?

The three things you need to do if you know you are on a shared short code (or other number type) or if you think you might be, are:

  1. Clarify – Ask your messaging provider to confirm your designated number status or if they can even provide designated numbers to their customers
  2. Plan ahead– If you need to spin up a new short code or want to switch to another type like a toll-free number, there are few important things to note. Short codes take time to launch because the campaign application process involves getting approved by all the carriers individually, which can be anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks. 
  3. Take action – Any time you change your messaging program number, it’s best practice to let your users know what to expect. Plus, you’ll need to have them opt back in to your program on the new number, usually via double opt-in. Once you’ve gotten your dedicated number up and running, this step is critical in order to avoid the new number getting blocked by carriers or triggering consumer complaints.
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