Short codes, once the only way to send A2P (application-to-person) text messages at volume, are undergoing some growth pains. It’s no surprise, given their age. Most would be surprised to realize that short codes are almost two decades old, and without much change since their inception, it’s almost given that change would be rolling in sooner or later.
So what’s happening to the rules that govern their use? The changes have to do with shared short codes - five/six digit SMS-only numbers that are shared by as many as thousands or tens of thousands of businesses at once. As business messaging matures, the shared short code business model has made spam mitigation tough to tackle. Since by nature, these short codes are “shared” by so many businesses, if one bad actor is flagged for spam, all of the businesses sharing the code are affected as well. It’s not a great user experience for anyone - and has become even more of a problem as text messaging has picked up steam as a preferred channel for business communications.
Industry insiders have reported hearing rumblings of shared short codes going away entirely in the coming months. For now, there are two immediate changes you’ll need to be on the lookout for:
First, you won’t be able to buy access to a new shared short code
Instead, you’ll need to find an alternative. Some providers may push you to use a dedicated short code, costing a minimum of $500 a month for the number alone - not including the cost of messages sent or received. While this may be a feasible option for some, many are looking for toll-free SMS as a more immediate alternative for their A2P messaging traffic. Toll-free SMS has all the benefits of short codes - the toll-free channel is capable of sending messages at high volumes - plus, it’s quite cost effective at only about $1 a month in number hosting fees.
Second, carriers are expected to shut down bad actors on shared short codes quickly and without much notice
AT&T recently announced that they will shut down a shared short code as soon as they find aggressive spam on the code. This differs from the traditional approach of reacting to consumer complaints. The proactive attitude protects the SMS channel, but does potentially harm delivery rates for those customers sharing a short code with other businesses, where one bad actor brings down a short code full of otherwise good messaging users.
Sounds complicated? It certainly is. It’s a rough landscape out there for short code users, but effective alternatives like high-volume toll-free SMS or APIs built on the new 10DLC carrier route are becoming more established all the time. Make sure your business is set up for long-term success by thoroughly investigating your short code usage.