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Who’s who in the messaging zoo? 

Zachary Kunkel Zachary Kunkel
Zachary Kunkel
Who’s who in the messaging zoo?

Updated 2/21/23

10DLC vs. Short Code vs. Toll-free Messaging

So, you want to engage with your customers in the United States and Canada, and text messaging seems like an excellent channel. (SMS averages around a 98% open rate and continues to grow in adoption.)

But it’s a zoo with different messaging product options like 10DLC, Toll-Free Numbers, and Short Codes.

Source: CTIA 2021 Annual Survey Highlights

Today’s messaging landscape can be complicated and confusing, especially when sending thousands or millions of messages at scale. We’re here to help you navigate the decision. When choosing which messaging type, here are some things to consider. First things first…

What are the options?

10DLC – A local presence

10DLC is a sanctioned business text message using a local number

What is it? Sanctioned business text messages using local phone numbers. Sanctioned here means businesses sending SMS and MMS over local phone numbers must register their brands and campaigns and be carrier-approved.  This is often referred to as 10DLC or a 10-digit long code.

When are they used? Businesses that need to show their locality often use it, such as a realtor with the same area code as the clients they serve. 

What is the typical use case seen? The typical use case for 10DLC includes text alerts, two-factor authentication, and appointment reminders. Other two-way messaging use cases are also supported when promoting your business or answering questions to complete a sale. In addition, users will expect a person to respond to them and often reply to messages sent on 10DLC with questions or comments, making it ideal for more personalized messaging interactions.

Learn more about registering your 10DLC messaging traffic

Toll-free – The convenient campaigner

Toll-free is a sanctioned business text message using a toll-free number

What is it? Sanctioned business text messages using toll-free numbers. These ten-digit phone numbers have an 8XX prefix like 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, or 833. As of September 30, 2022, all toll-free messaging traffic must be verified and carrier-approved.

When are they used? Often used by businesses that require high-volume messaging at scale and quickly. 

What is the typical use case seen? Businesses have used toll-free numbers for decades to allow users to avoid high fees when calling a business, and now they are practically synonymous with the “corporate phone line.” As a result, they’re ideal for enterprise communications because they give the impression that a business representative is on the other end. In addition, they can be voice-enabled (if they aren’t already), allowing users to escalate to a phone call directly from their message inbox. 

Learn more about toll-free SMS

Short Code – The ol’ reliable

Short Code is a sanctioned business text message using a 5-6 digit number

What is it? Sanctioned business text messages using short codes – often 5-6-digit numbers. These numbers were the first A2P messaging option and are easily recognized by end-users as being from a business. You may have received verification from a familiar number when trying to log into your account or make a purchase.

When are they used? Short codes are for messaging purposes only and do not support voice communications, making them ideal for high-throughput, high-volume notifications with little or no expectations for personalized conversations. 

What is the typical use case seen? While the most common short code implementations are primarily for one-way communication, short codes can accommodate limited two-way conversational chats initiated by certain keywords (such as confirming an appointment with ‘YES’).

Learn more about Short Codes

What to consider when picking a channel

Now that you know a bit about the options, here are some factors to consider as you choose which makes the most sense for you.

Message Volume – how many messages will you be sending?

Toll-free numbers can now send the same volume of messages as short codes, and local numbers can be used for A2P messaging at varying throughput rates based on the use case. All it takes is a few special permission adjustments to your number, and you can be sending out sanctioned high-volume messages.

Cost – how much are you willing to spend?

The dedicated short code framework typically includes a monthly lease fee of over $500, plus your per-message fees. However, messaging with toll-free and 10DLC numbers typically costs less than $1 per line per month, meaning you can save thousands of dollars every year in monthly recurring costs alone.

Time to Market – how long does it take?

Short answer – it depends on the messaging option. The carriers must approve all messaging use cases via registration, verification, or campaign review. 

Short code campaign brief review and approval takes the longest time – around 4-6 weeks. 10DLC activations are generally faster but still require A2P campaign registration to get better treatment. Toll-free verification is required as of September 30, 2022, and typically takes 3-5 weeks. However, for TF verification, you can send traffic (at a lower throughput than verified numbers) once you submit for verification, as your number(s) will be “pending.”

User Experience – what experience are you trying to provide?

Think about the user experience you’re delivering. Short codes work great for ‘text-in’ campaigns like ‘Text DEALS to 555-55 to receive 20% off.’ They’re memorable and easy. 

On the other hand, toll-free and local numbers are a number your customers may already be dialing for sales or support calls. If you’re sending messages on behalf of an entire brand, your toll-free number may be the most recognizable channel. If you’ve got a local brick-and-mortar or many locations (and your customers want to make sure they’re talking to the right one), you may see a higher response rate by using a local number your customers may be more accustomed to using.

Here is a chart to help provide an apples-to-apples comparison between these three products:

Let’s compare!TOLL-FREE NUMBER
Volume LimitsVirtually unlimited messages per second (mps)Virtually unlimited mpsA max. of 60 mps depending on campaign approvals
Registration typeToll-free verification *will be required as of September 30, 2022*Direct carrier campaign registrationRegistration via The Campaign Registry (TCR)
Time to Market3-5 day approval processMinimum 4-6 week approval process involving all carriers1-week approval process
Carrier Surcharges?Yes*YesYes (A2P)
No (P2P)

We all know that text messages get engagement like no other communication channel. Of course, the best text messaging product for you depends entirely on your business. Whatever you are looking to build, there is an option for you to best communicate with your customers or end-users.  And, with Bandwidth’s messaging APIs, we can help you easily inject the power of text messaging into your application in just minutes.

Still not sure and want to chat with one of our messaging experts? We are ready!