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Toll-Free SMS vs Local SMS: Which is right for you?


August 23, 2018


June 22, 2022

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If you were to ask your customers how they want to be contacted, most of them are going to say they prefer to be contacted via SMS. We all tend to ignore emails, and we’re even worse with phone calls, but text messages get looked at, and responded to, quickly.

Which, of course, raises the question of how your business should be using SMS to reach your customers. You’re paying for every message you send, regardless of whether or not it’s received, so making sure your business is using the right messaging service for your needs is important to make sure you’re not paying for something that never gets there.

Messaging options

When it really comes down to it, there are two types of messaging — A2P (application-to-person) and P2P (person-to-person). P2P messaging allows for more personal communications; it’s the kind of texting we do with our friends and families. It’s low volume, low throughput, and allows us to send text, videos, images…whatever we want.

A2P messaging, on the other hand, allows for more messages to be sent to more people at a faster rate. This is done through toll-free and short code messaging, which is akin to the highway for SMS (whereas P2P is your local neighborhood street).

So which one do I need?

Deciding which type of messaging is right for you really comes down to what you need to do. To figure it out, answer a few questions:

  • Do you want to send more than one message per second? Local SMS is intended for personal use, and no matter how fast our fingers are, we rarely can type out more than a single message every second. If you’re looking to send messages faster than that, you’ll likely want toll-free SMS or short codes.
  • Are you sending more than 1,000 messages from a single phone number? This is another red flag for carriers — humans don’t usually send that many messages in a short amount of time, so if you’re trying to send that many, you probably want to veer towards A2P channels like toll-free SMS, short codes, or approved Local A2P numbers.
  • Are you sending to more than 200 people? I’m betting that if you look through your messaging app of choice that you only send texts to a few people. You text with some friends, family members, significant others, but you don’t send messages to a lot of numbers; probably 50 tops. If your needs require sending to a large number of people, A2P messaging over toll-free, short codes, or Local A2P may be a better option for you.
  • Are you sending more than receiving? Local numbers have a pretty even ratio of sent to received messages (assuming your friends actually respond…Karen!) A2P is more of a one-way conversation, with you sending out more than you expect to have returned, though, fun fact, with toll-free SMS your customers can reply to the same number like they would to a local number (not so with short codes).

Staying out of trouble

Regardless of which path you use for sending messages, it’s important to keep a few things in mind to avoid getting in trouble and having your messages blocked by the carriers.

  • Don’t send inappropriate content. Messages that include references to illegal drugs, certain types of foul language, and sexually explicit content, and others are going to get flagged as spam by the end-user, so carriers are going to be on the look-out for them as well and won’t even let them through. Seriously, just don’t send this stuff.
  • Don’t use lots of numbers to get around volume rules. Also known as “snowshoeing”, this is when you utilize a lot of local numbers to match the volume that A2P messaging is designed for. Carriers are wise to these tricks and are adjusting their filters accordingly. If you need to send lots of messages, use the appropriate tools.


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