In 2022 text messaging is looking at a Restructure—Like last year, the ground is somewhat shifting under our feet. There are some new fees, regulations to keep on top of, and many choices. So, where do we stand?
While you should read up on the entire history of SMS, the truly meaty bits have happened in recent years
When the CTIA released its updated Messaging Principles and Best Practices, and the carriers announced the intent for 10 digit long code (10DLC), it was clear that business text messaging over local numbers was having a revolution. A key part of this revolution was that businesses utilizing text messaging would need to adapt to new consent management, volumetric filtering, and spam filtering that can increasingly interfere with message delivery.
2020 sparked a renaissance for business text messaging. The pandemic brought a massive need for contactless experiences. Verizon’s implementation of 10DLC established new procedures to follow when sending messages on local numbers to Verizon users. This new process prompted other carriers to follow suit.
In 2021, business text messaging experienced a reformation. AT&T and T-Mobile introduced more procedural requirements and traffic monitoring with the rollouts of their 10DLC programs. Carriers also introduced new fees and surcharges for unregistered traffic.
Business text messaging continues to restructure as people navigate new environments. That’s not to say new fees and regulations won’t turn up, but with 2021 behind us, let’s take a deep breath and make sure we’re ready for what’s next.
As we go through 2022, changes will likely continue to happen. For instance, business text messaging providers may continue to see increased surcharges with 10DLC, making it trickier to consider it the low-cost option. And some speculate that toll-free could be a haven from campaign registration requirements, but is this true?
The CTIA is an association representing the wireless industry and other communications providers based in Washington, D.C. Bandwidth is a member of the CTIA. The CTIA’s controlling members are primarily representatives from the major wireless telecom companies. Part of the CTIA’s stated mission is to ‘Convene the industry to tackle our most difficult challenges and coordinate voluntary best practices and initiatives.’ The CTIA aims to gain consensus on best practices that set the tone and expected behavior throughout the communications industry.
The most recent iteration of the CTIA’s Messaging Principles & Best Practices, released in July 2019, can be found here. In addition, the CTIA has 12 major guidelines that the wireless industry uses to deliver a consistent experience for consumers, which you can read here.
Are you a business sending messages to consumers for any use case? If yes, you are sending application-to-person (A2P) messages, and the CTIA guidelines should be followed to ensure the best possible chance of delivery. The most important ones to follow are:
Consent management (Opt-in/Opt-out) best practices (see table 1) this is arguably the most important one to adhere to as the TCPA law protects consumers from unwanted communications. Also, make sure to keep track of user consent in your CRM or via another method in case there is ever a dispute.
Avoid number cycling and snowshoeing — using techniques like these to avoid carrier fees and filters when attempting to reach users is a surefire way to end up fined, blocked, or even blacklisted.
Identify yourself and regularly include program reminders — one of the best ways to avoid being misidentified as spam is always to have your business or program name at the top of the message content and provide recurring reminders for STOP and HELP keywords.
With the current state of deregulation due to text messaging being classified as an information service, carriers can and are setting their own rules on their networks. This effectively means carriers can declare what they intend to do on their side of the equation when it comes to the intercarrier text message exchange. While this is extremely practical for a single carrier in a vacuum, having customized rules from each carrier is not operationally viable or competitively neutral. Your business is not texting only one carrier’s end users. In a perfect world, carriers of all stripes would have a forum to come together and agree on a single set of requirements that work to support legitimate wanted traffic across a wide array of platforms, but that vision remains a work in progress.
The options can be hard to navigate when figuring out what number type to use for your business text messaging program. Which one is right for your use case between toll-free, local (10DLC), and short code? Which one gets you the best return on your investment in 2022? Let’s take a look.
Short codes are the well-known original number type for business text messaging and have been in play for almost two decades. They’re called “short codes” because they are 5 or 6 digit numbers instead of the ten-digit long codes (10DLC) we use for voice-enabled phone numbers. Short codes were built with a campaign application process to allow the carriers to review the purpose of the short code, the message content, and the opt-in/out mechanisms before approving them to pass traffic. This process refers to a campaign review and it can take quite a long time compared to our other options, between 8-12 weeks when applying for a new code and 4-6 weeks when migrating an existing code to a new provider.
Short codes were meant for messaging only and cannot be voice-enabled, making them ideal for high-throughput, high-volume notifications with little or no expectations for personalized conversations. However, more businesses engage with users via text messaging than ever before. While short codes can be used for limited two-way conversational chats (such as confirming an appointment with 'YES'), the most common implementation for short codes is still primarily one-way communication. Keyword autoresponders provide automated responses, like "Reply HELP to get more information."
Due to short codes being, short, they are a limited resource. To acquire a short code, an applicant must first lease a code, either random or premium (you choose the sequence, depending on availability), for three months and paid in advance as long as a year. As a result, they are the most expensive number types in the industry, costing a minimum of $500 and as much as $1000 per month, on top of carrier fees and per-message send fees. If you stop paying the rent, the short code is returned and someone else is free to pick up that vanity short code that spells your business name.
The advantage of spending the extra costs to utilize a short code is that you are using a "sanctioned" channel for sending business text messaging if your campaign is approved. Therefore, there is very little reason your messages would be blocked, provided the messages you send are in line with your approved campaign—if not, you'd be fined, and your code would be blocked. Another benefit of short codes is that handset delivery receipts are available. You get confirmation if your messages were received by their intended handsets or if something went wrong. Finally, short codes were designed for high-throughput message delivery, giving businesses massive message-per-second (MPS) send rates for campaigns reaching millions of subscribers.
Although it’s been around for several years now, toll-free messaging is sometimes mistaken for being less reliable than short codes, and it’s even still unknown to many businesses that their toll-free numbers can be text-enabled.In reality, the industry's dark horse is toll-free messaging, bringing high-throughput message delivery and handset delivery receipts in a sanctioned business text messaging channel. Also, while not yet required, toll-free verification is highly recommended and offers improved deliverability rates and quicker resolutions to blocked traffic for those businesses with qualifying use cases.
Businesses have utilized toll-free numbers for decades to allow users to avoid high fees when making a call to a business, and now they are practically synonymous with the “corporate phone line.” As a result, they’re ideal for conversational messaging 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. They can, of course, be used primarily for one-way messaging and not be voice-enabled. Still, with today's people-centric customer service focus, it's good to make sure the phone line goes to a recording or forwards to your main business phone line, so users aren't confused if they call.
Since toll-free numbers are assigned to a business, usually at least $1 per line, toll-free numbers are an extremely cost-effective alternative to short codes, especially if you already have a number that's been in use by your business for years. Also, more toll-free numbers are available because they rely on more digits than short codes. Until recently, toll-free messages were also absent wireless carrier fees, but that has since changed and will likely continue to evolve.
However, the extra fees are worth it as the benefits of toll-free messaging outweigh the costs. Toll-free messaging is also enabled for handset delivery receipts (“DLRs”), providing the same delivery intelligence and insights as short codes. With handset DLRs, high throughput availability, and a near-real-time launch, toll-free is a worthy competitor to short codes and an excellent choice for business text messaging.
As text messaging became more and more attractive for B2C interactions, messaging providers found a way to enable messaging on local phone numbers and landlines. Still, the wireless carriers didn’t fully sanction the use of local numbers for business purposes.
Carriers wanted a way to distinguish between person-to-person messaging traffic, like texting with your friends, and business text messaging traffic using local numbers. So, among other things, volumetric filters were put in place to identify the sending patterns of companies versus humans. Still, some messaging providers found ways to circumvent those filters by using bad practices like phone number cycling and snowshoeing, where a large pool of numbers is used to spread out traffic. Enter: sanctioned business text messaging using local phone numbers called 10DLC.
10DLC is used by businesses that need to show their locality, such as a realtor with the same area code as the clients they serve. The use case for 10DLC is generally two-way conversational messaging, even when promoting your business or answering questions to complete a sale. 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.
Local numbers are inexpensive, but the carrier fees associated with 10DLC vary. Some carriers charge a flat fee to send on 10DLC, whereas others implement a fee scale based on whether or not a campaign has been registered. While the campaign management process is not as involved as what you experience with short codes, campaign vetting is generally required to qualify for better rates and message throughput from mobile carriers and is expected to become required. Campaign registration may include additional fees, making 10DLC second to short code in the breadth of campaign registration fees and requirements.
10DLC has some critical drawbacks to note. Handset DLRs are not enabled on local numbers, meaning businesses may only know that their messaging provider sent their message but not whether it was blocked or failed on the recipient end. . Businesses only find out they are experiencing deliverability issues when a problem is identified via customer complaints—not ideal for a positive customer experience.
What makes 10DLC unique is there is no way to measure performance and proactively correct issues. In contrast, short codes and toll-free messaging provide visibility that allows businesses to take corrective action almost immediately.
Getting business messages delivered isn’t as simple as pressing send. There are best practices to follow and user consent requirements that should be present for every messaging program. This section looks at a few examples of business text messaging in action, done right.
While sending and receiving SMS messages in the US can almost be taken for granted thanks to its prevalence, international texting presents some unique challenges. Fees, regulations, and even technical limitations on number types vary not only by country but also by carrier within the country, and there are over 1,400 carriers to consider.
Think about how complex business messaging in the US is. Now apply that to every country, big or small, in the world. Instead of detailing every nuance in this guide, here are some things you should know about what goes on behind the scenes of international business text messaging.
The most significant discrepancy for international business text messaging is when considering one-way communication instead of two-way. The global texting landscape is ideal for one-way communication such as notifications or promotions. However, the design of one-way messaging internationally is counterintuitively simple compared to what we're used to. Unlike the U.S., which requires phone numbers or short codes, certain countries allow the use of different types of sender identification altogether: Alphanumeric Sender IDs.
Alphanumeric Sender ID - In reality, this can be broken down into both Numeric and Alpha Sender IDs, as some countries have restrictions on one or the other. An entirely Alpha Sender ID registration, i.e., “SENDER NAME,” might be required, but a Numeric Sender ID is allowed in some cases. Depending on the carrier (yes carrier, not country), the technical support for Alpha vs. Numeric Sender IDs will vary. It’s common to see that A2P messaging use cases, like notifications or promotions, must be sent from a registered Sender ID and do not support two-way messaging. If your business requires two-way messaging, you’ll need a virtual mobile phone number or a registered short code, even more complex.
For use cases that require two-way messaging, like an outbound text message that requires a reply, local mobile virtual numbers are needed. However, these numbers can be challenging to obtain and require wireless number authority where messages are exchanged. For example, suppose you want to enable patient appointment notifications in France, where patients reply to confirm their appointment. In that case, you’ll need a French long virtual number that is mobile—and for that, you’ll need a messaging partner who can provide that number for you.
Local Virtual Mobile Number - When sending international SMS from businesses, we almost always hear, “I need two-way messaging internationally.” However, numbering authority and A2P messaging rules differ from country to country. Unlike the U.S., sending from a local number is not always an option. In many countries, virtual mobile numbers are restricted to person-to-person interactions only, with strict throughput limits (like ½ mps). They are also not even available in every country (only 20 countries allow virtual mobile numbers).
Similar to the CTIA, the GSM Association (GSMA) is the international industry organization representing the interests of mobile network operators (carriers). The GSMA performs a similar role to the CTIA in the U.S. They help provide generally accepted guidelines and standards for carriers to follow, but they have no governing power to enforce those standards.
International regulations can get very complicated, as each country has a different outlook on what should and should not be regulated. On top of this, political and economic unions can affect which countries are regulated under laws applicable to that territory. or example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), applies to all member states of the European Union (EU) and has inspired similar data protection laws worldwide.
International messaging is complicated even between residents. With the complex nature of international A2P messaging, businesses have begun to look to the same alternatives that people use to communicate within and outside country lines.
As SMS can be cost-prohibitive in some countries, over-the-top (OTT) messaging applications that rely on data to exchange messages have grown to be the primary messaging platform of choice in some countries outside the U.S.
So if you’re looking for a better customer experience with 2-way communication internationally, these platforms can offer a low-cost solution with low friction when it comes to adoption.
On the other hand, while these applications offer the media-rich experiences of SMS and MMS, they don't come pre-programmed on mobile devices and can't send messages to anyone outside the app; this can limit their usage to smartphone users with no data access. But depending on your use case and market, this could be a minor issue.
Here are some considerations and questions to answer when making your decision and red flags you might be experiencing that signal it's time to reconsider your current provider. In an industry that’s changing as rapidly as business text messaging, it’s critical to have a partner that can inform you and advocate for you.
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