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The messaging reformation

The ultimate guide to business text messaging in 2021

Reaching consumers via text message in 2021 is a whole new ballgame, with more stringent rules and unforeseen costs. Is your business ready?

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Phone showing message delivered

In 2020, text messaging experienced its renaissance—a revival and renewed interest in a decades old technology. Now, as we launch into 2021, carriers are taking a closer look at business messaging traffic and implementing changes. So take a breath of fresh 2021-scented air and enjoy this attempt at helping the world better understand business messaging.

For an on-the-go summary of this comprehensive guide, you can download the summary of our report, too.

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Business Messaging in the US

Recent SMS industry developments

While you should definitely read up on the full history of SMS, the truly meaty bits have happened all in the last few years. Let’s review the recent history-defining moments of the SMS industry.

Revolution 2019

When the CTIA released it’s updated Messaging Principles and Best Practices, and the carriers announced the intent for 10 digit long code (10DLC), it was clear that business messaging as we knew it had been revolutionized. The wireless carrier community was finally taking steps to formally recognizing business text messaging as a legitimate and wanted form of communication by consumers, but there were also massive changes to the definition of business messaging itself. Unbeknownst to the larger consumer audience, businesses wanting to send text messages were facing new challenges like consent management, volumetric filtering, and spam filtering that interfered with message delivery like never before.

Renaissance 2020

As chaotic and terrible as 2020 was for, well, everyone, it really sparked a renaissance for business messaging. The pandemic brought a massive need for contactless experiences, and Verizon’s launch of 10DLC created easy access to messaging on local numbers to Verizon users, spurring demand for the other carriers to follow suit. Being an election year, text messaging became not only a necessary channel for businesses to interact with their consumers, but also a major avenue for political parties to drive engagement with their constituents as rallies and other in-person events became unsafe. Carriers also started taking more active roles in their filtering of text messages with the intent of protecting consumers, but without oversight the misaligned policies prevented many wanted messages relating to healthcare, customer service, and socially distant retail from getting to their intended destinations.

Reformation 2021

As we look ahead to the next twelve months, business text messaging is going to experience a reformation. AT&T and T-Mobile are poised to introduce more regulation and monitoring with the rollouts of their 10DLC programs. Adaptations like snowshoeing and shared short codes are finally being put out to pasture. Ideally, the industry would come together and unify the requirements and programs to simplify traffic exchanges and enhance the end-user’s experiences. But the wireless carriers are defining their own individual requirements, leading to marketplace barriers for businesses that we are all working to navigate. On top of all of that, business text messaging is about to get a lot more expensive, bringing economic pressure to the ecosystem. The hope is that these changes bring a reduction in spam and unwanted messages. So, as text messaging continues to be such a critical form of communication in the US, we are heading for a reformation to keep a positive experience in the messaging inbox.

Read the full history on our blog Visit our blog

What do business messaging best practices look like today?

The CTIA is the wireless industry’s association in Washington D.C. Its controlling members are primarily comprised of representatives from the major wireless telecom companies, whom it represents. 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 says it 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 attempt at this consensus document was the July 2019 release of the Messaging Principles and Best Practices.

It is important to note that the CTIA is not a legally governing body or controlled by one, like the FCC for example, meaning that they can only suggest—not enforce—these “industry guidelines.” So, where does the real enforcement actually happen? Well, broadly, it doesn’t—wireless carriers literally just make it up as they go along, but generally within the framework of the industry’s guidelines and with applicable laws like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA).

SMS outlined text

The big 3: important reminders about messaging

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 — 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 to always include your business or program name at the top of the message content, and provide recurring reminders for STOP and HELP keywords.

Types of messaging and consent required

Conversational messaging is a back-and-forth conversation that takes place over text. If the consumer texts into the business first and the business responds quickly with a single message, it’s likely conversational. If the consumer initiates the conversation and the business simply responds, no additional permission is required.

What makes it conversational messaging?

  • The first message always sent by the consumer
  • Two-way conversation
  • Message responds to a specific request

Implied consent

If the consumer initiates the text messaging exchange and the business only responds to each consumer with relevant information, no verbal or written permission is required.

Informational messaging is when a consumer gives a business their number and asks to be contacted in the future. Appointment reminders, welcome texts, and alerts fall in this category because the first text message sent by the business fulfills the consumer’s request. A consumer should agree to receive texts when they give the business their mobile phone number.

What makes it informational messaging?

  • The first message is sent by the consumer or business
  • One-way alert or two-way conversation
  • Message contains information

Expressed consent

The consumer should grant permission before the business texts them. They can grant permission over text, on a form or website, or verbally. Written permission also works.

Promotional messaging, or text marketing, is when a SMS message contains a sales or marketing promotion. Adding a call-to-action like a coupon code to an informational text may place it in the promotional category. Consumers must agree to receive promotional texts in writing before a business can send promotional messages via SMS marketing campaigns. Businesses that already ask consumers to sign forms or submit contact information can add a field to capture consent.

What makes it promotional messaging?

  • The first message is sent by the business
  • One-way alert
  • Message promotes a brand or product
  • Prompts consumer to buy something or go somewhere

Expressed written consent

The consumer should give written permission before a business may text them. They can sign a form or check a box to allow promotional text messages. Participation in text promotions should never be a requirement.

An important note about carrier nuances and differing SMS rules

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.

Opt-in requirements and logistics Want to learn more about SMS opt-in logistics and requirements? Read the blog post
Green wave

Types of phone numbers for business messaging

When figuring out what number type to use for your business messaging program, the options can be hard to navigate. Between toll-free, local (10DLC), and short code, which one is right for your use case? Which one gets you the best return on your investment? Well, let’s take a look.

Short Codes – The slow and steady incumbent

Toll-Free – The underestimated dark horse

Local 10DLC – A complicated antagonist

Number types and features
Type of number
Toll-free (1-866-555-5555)
Short codes (55555)
Local (555-555-5555)
Throughput limits
Virtually unlimited messages per second, with approval
Virtually unlimited messages per second, with approval
Depending on carrier campaign status, can be as little as .5 mps
Voice enabled?
Time to market
Near real-time
Weeks or months
Days to weeks
Number fees
Carrier fees
Use cases
informational, promotional
All, when locality is important
Deliverability Ranking
Phone call
Do all of these messaging rules and fees have you concerned about reaching your customers? Don’t forget about voice! Check out our consumer preferences survey to learn how they like to be contacted (spoiler: they still like to be called). CHECK OUT OUR CONSUMER PREFERENCES SURVEY

Business text message examples and templates

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 message program. This section looks at a few examples of business messaging in action, done right.

Web advertisement and service messages

Web advertisement example Advertisment

Although opt-out instructions are not required on the advertisment itself, they must appear in the terms and conditions

Terms and conditions

Complete terms and conditions should include customer care contact information; Complete opt-out instructions; a recurring message disclosure, a product description and a program (brand) name. Some program types (e.g., sweepstakes) have additional requirments carrier by carrier

Automated text message example

TV advertisement

TV advertisement example Advertisment

Although opt-out instructions are not required on the advertisment itself, they must appear in the terms and conditions

Terms and conditions

Complete terms and conditions should include customer care contact information; Complete opt-out instructions; a recurring message disclosure, a product description and a program (brand) name. Some program types (e.g., sweepstakes have additional requirments carrier by carrier

Text message TV ad

Non-marketing opt-in and service messages

Opt in text message Recurring-messsages appointment reminder

Service representative records customer's request for messages and customer's phone number. Program terms and conditions, including complete opt-out information, and privacy policy are available from the representative.

Non-marketing text message

Web keyword advertisement and service messages

Website coupon code example
Text message coupon example

Point of sale advertisement and service messages

Point of sale example
Text message point of sale sample

Hard copy advertisement and service messages

Hard copy ad example
Text message hard copy ad example

Web advertisement and service messages

Website ad example
Text message website ad example

Print advertisement and service messages

Print ad example
Text message print ad example

Verbal opt-in and service messages

Verbal promotion example
Text message verbal promotion example

Hardcopy opt-in and service messages

Hard copy promotion example
Text message hard copy promotion example

POS advertisement and service messages

Point of sale single example
Text message point of sale single example

International texting for business

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.

One-way messaging

The biggest discrepancy that exists for international business text messaging is when considering one-way communication as opposed to two-way. The international texting landscape is ideal for one-way communication such as notifications or promotions, and is more feature-rich, including delivery receipts. The design of one-way messaging internationally is counterintuitively simple compared to what we're used to. Unlike the US, which requires phone numbers or short codes, International A2P is equipped to handle a different type of sender identification altogether: Alphanumeric Sender IDs. Once your business is set up with a Sender ID via a provider like Bandwidth, getting messages delivered to users is easy and reliable.

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. “SENDERNAME”, might be required, but in some cases a Numeric Sender ID is allowed. 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, are required to 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, which is even more complex and ultimately not scalable at all.

Two-way messaging

For use cases that require two-way messaging, like an outbound text message that requires a reply, local mobile virtual numbers are required. These numbers can be incredibly difficult to obtain and require wireless number authority in the country where messages are intended to be exchanged. For example, if you want to enable patient appointment notifications in France where the patient replies to confirm their appointment, you’ll need a French long virtual number that is mobile—and for that you’ll need a messaging partner who has the ability to obtain that number for you.

Local Virtual Mobile Number - When sending international SMS from businesses, we almost always hear “I need two-way messaging internationally.” Numbering authority and A2P messaging rules differ from country to country. Unlike the US, simply sending from a local number is not 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), which begs the question: Do you really need two-way international? There are other ways to accept confirmations, including sending a confirmation link.


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. in that 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 union—namely the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which applies to all member states of the European Union (EU). This means that EU citizens’ data is protected by GDPR laws much like the TCPA protects US citizens’ data.

Alternatives to A2P

Messaging internationally is complicated even between residents. With the complex nature of international A2P messaging, businesses have begun to look to the same alternatives that people are using to communicate with each other both within and outside country lines. As SMS can be cost prohibitive in some countries, over-the-top (OTT) messaging applications that rely on data, not SMS, to exchange messages have grown to be the primary messaging platform of choice in some countries outside the US. While these applications offer media-rich experiences, they don't come pre-programmed on mobile devices and can't send messages to anyone outside the app, limiting their usage to smartphone users with data access.

Bandwidth experts

Want to learn more about our business messaging offerings?


Types of messaging

What's next after SMS

As carrier fees rise, business messaging is experiencing competition from non-carrier alternatives. Let’s take a look at some of the carrier-specific messaging changes coming as well as over-the-top messaging apps and how they measure up against carrier messaging.

*Note: not all of the below listed technologies are provided by Bandwidth at this time.


Verified SMS


RCS (Rich Communication Services)

Facebook Messenger

Apple Business Chat

How to choose a business texting
service provider

Here are some considerations and questions to answer when making your decision, as well as 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. You want someone with a seat at the table, relationships with carriers, and some real experience in the messaging space. You want an insider and an expert. Make sure you pick a partner that can help you navigate the messaging reformation.

  • Provides transparent industry update information with in-depth explanations of changes
  • Dedicated human point of contact to ask questions and consult on messaging/business strategy
  • Interested in co-creation and a true partnership that benefits both of you, integrating your feedback into their product roadmap
  • Practices what they preach, following stated best industries guidelines
  • Proactively works to identify and resolve issues before they become problems/before they impact your business
  • Withholds or only provides industry information via support documentation without any explanation
  • No dedicated point of contact and no planning for strategies that align with your business' needs
  • Product direction and development indicate they may be competing against you or have conflicts with your business
  • Does not follow stated best industry guidelines
  • Requires you to put in support tickets for issues that are impacting your business

Want to learn more?

Check out the resources below to learn more about how Bandwidth has been leading marketplace technology innovations.

State of messaging

The state of business messaging in 2021

Bandwidth employees

Talk to an expert

State of messaging quick guide

The state of business messaging in 2021