Glossary

Toll-Free SMS

Toll-Free Short Message Service (Toll-Free SMS) is used to send and receive text messages (SMS and MMS) from toll-free numbers (such as those starting with 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, 833, and 800). The messages can typically be up to 160 characters in length, though some services use 5-bit mode, which supports 224 characters. Toll-free text messaging is classified as application-to-person (A2P) as described in the CTIA best practices which allow these types of messages to be sent at higher message-per-second rate limits—exactly like those previously reserved for short codes.

Who Uses Toll-Free SMS?

Many businesses utilize toll-free SMS in order to send high volume SMS messages to their customers, without all the extra carrier surcharges, with information like:

  • Shipping notifications
    • Notifications from retail factories that your purchase in still in production/packaging, has shipped, or been delivered. 
  • Appointment reminders
    • Doctors offices sending you confirmation or appointment reminders about your upcoming visit. 
  • Service updates
    • Maintenance workers sending you any updates on what time an employee will be at your house, the status of the work order if unfinished and some options on times to come back, or a completion update. 
  • School/Office alerts
    • School, universities, offices sending out weather advisories, emergency situations, important technology “down-time” alerts.  

Toll-free SMS works best when your use case is person-to-person; meaning, both the sender and the recipient are having a conversation via text message. This helps businesses pave the way for better customers/user experiences via text at the largest scale, by maintaining a more personalized relationship with their customers, and also providing a chance for them to respond back with any questions or concerns. Consumers in this day and age prefer to communicate through text messaging instead of taking the time to make a call, especially if they think they’ll have to sit on hold or hunt through menus to find the person they need.

How Much Does Toll-Free SMS Cost?

Toll-free numbers vary in price depending on country location and service providers. In the United States, toll-free numbers are very competitive, and all numbers are regulated by the FCC. At Bandwidth, our toll-free SMS cost is $.005 for inbound and outbound rates. 

Where Can I Get Toll-Free SMS?

Businesses may acquire toll-free numbers from their current carriers. Some businesses are able to text-enable their existing toll-free phone numbers and use them to send those critical alerts and notifications to their customers via SMS. This allows for a more personalized touch, since they are utilizing the same number their customers already know to call.


Even if you are locked in a contract with your current voice provider, most carriers will provide a letter or authorization allowing you to take just your messaging business to a different provider, letting you get started quicker without having to ride out an outdated contract.

What Consumers Need to Know About Toll-Free SMS

Toll-free SMS is still somewhat knew for businesses, and it’s a great feature for businesses looking to communicate with their customers. Just like toll-free numbers are the expected business phone number for voice, toll-free is quickly becoming the expected and preferred business phone number for messaging. In a world where the average consumer prefers to be communicated with via text , toll-free messaging is becoming an increasingly important customer success and sales tool.

If your SMS feature is for customer support or sales, toll-free is a fantastic option for you. However, because toll-free numbers can support a higher throughput of messages per phone number than traditional ten-digit numbers, some developers choose to use toll-free numbers for one-way communications like alerts and notifications. Choosing toll-free also makes responding to those notifications possible, unlike a short code, which is another commonly-used messaging option for alerts and notifications.

The messaging revolution also plays a vital role in why toll-free is becoming the preferred style of messaging for businesses. Shared short codes have become the biggest source of spam for wireless carriers, and they’re starting to crack down, resulting in short codes becoming blacklisted and ultimately banned from use. Toll-free SMS is the smartest way forward if you’re moving away from short codes. 

What is the Difference Between Toll-Free SMS and Short Codes?

Short codes are great for mass messaging use cases like pin codes, two-factor authentication, SMS marketing, and more. You’ve used them to vote for your favorite American Idol, or donate to the Red Cross.  But some formerly short code required messages may be better sent using a toll-free number. Why?

Here are a few reasons:

  • A toll-free number can be provisioned and ready for use in the snap of a finger. Whereas short codes tend to be much more complicated to work with vs. toll-free, often taking months to provision. 
  • Toll-free numbers are voice and text-enabled. You’ve probably already got a toll-free number for voice, why not use that number in a new way? Open the door for your customers to text you from the same number they call. That’s adds up to additional flexibility for your customers and potential cost savings for you since voice minutes are generally more costly, and require more dedicated agent time than sending text messages.
  • A toll-free number legitimizes your business, and may add some credibility to your message. Whereas a five digit number can seem impersonal, like there’s no one on the other side of the line.
  • Toll-free numbers will save you money, starting at $.075 a month. Short codes cost between $500 to $1000 per month to rent. 

Looking ahead, toll-free SMS is better for mass business text messaging when you include cost savings, ease of use, ease of implementation, and personalized touch. Plus the facts stated above on the messaging revolution which is phasing out short codes for many businesses.

How Bandwidth is Involved with Toll-Free SMS

Bandwidth’s Toll-Free SMS offering enables messaging capabilities like PIN codes, notifications, and other customer communications that provide a better user experience. Bandwidth offers Toll-Free SMS in lieu of short codes in order to provide our customers with the best possible messaging capabilities. Bandwidth’s Toll-Free SMS is one feature that we offer through our Messaging API. In addition, Bandwidth allows our customers to integrate voice, 911 access, and phone numbers into their platforms in order to connect with their customers in more ways than one.

To find answers for some FAQs on Bandwidth’s toll-free SMS services, visit our support page!

What Are the Benefits of Bandwidth’s Toll-Free SMS

Bandwidth’s Toll-Free SMS is a great alternative to short codes. Your business can get more value out of toll-free phone numbers by letting your customers have one number that handles phone calls and text messaging. Toll-free numbers are also much faster to provision than short codes. While obtaining short codes from mobile carriers can take weeks to months, Bandwidth’s Toll-Free SMS can be ready to use in minutes. This allows your business to start customer engagement as soon as possible.

Toll-free numbers are also cost effective for your business when compared to short codes. The more money you save on investing in messaging means an even greater ROI for your text messaging efforts. Not only is your business getting more bang for their buck, but your customers are also receiving a more authentic messaging experience.

Short codes are typically 5-digit phone numbers which can feel like SPAM to an end user. Toll-Free SMS is a ten digit number which can give a better impression when your business reaches out.

Overall, Bandwidth’s Toll-Free SMS services are an effective way for your business to provide a more enjoyable experience to your customers. Bandwidth has mastered Toll-Free SMS, so you can focus on what matters most to you.

Terms Related to Toll-Free SMS

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