Choosing the Best Phone Number Type for Texting

Choosing the Best Phone Number Type for Texting

SMS — short message service — is one of the best tools for building relationships with your customers. 81% of Americans use SMS every day, and more than three-quarters of Americans wish they could text with a business.

We could go on and on about the benefits of using SMS, but let’s say you’re convinced that SMS can be a valuable tool for your business and you’re raring to get started. Before you implement any text messaging campaigns, one of the first things you need to do is figure out what kind of phone number to use to send out messages and receive responses.

Your first thought might be to use normal 10-digit phone numbers, known as long codes. In the US, long codes should be used only for person-to-person (P2P) conversational texting.

In the United States you have a choice of three types of phone numbers for business texting.

  • 10DLC (10-digit long code) is a service offered by major US carriers to explicitly allow commercial application-to-person (A2P) SMS traffic over long code phone numbers. How do you turn long codes into 10DLC numbers? You have to register them with your carrier. 10DLC is exclusively a US service; you can use long codes for sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages in Canada and other countries.
  • Toll-free numbers are used by businesses that want their customers to reach them at no cost. Incoming calls are billed to the called party and are free of charge for the calling party. Most countries reserve a set of dialing prefixes to denote toll-free services. In North America, 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833 denote toll-free numbers. You can use toll-free numbers for two-way messaging as well as voice.
  • Short codes are five- or six-digit numbers (for example, 123456) used to send and receive SMS messages. Unlike 10DLC and long code numbers, short codes are not tied to an area code, so they can be used across a country to provide a nationwide brand identity under one easy-to-remember number. Unlike long codes and toll-free numbers, you can’t use short codes for voice calls. You can order a regular short code or a vanity one, which allows you to choose the number you want instead of getting assigned a random number. Vanity short codes cost more to lease, but they can be worth the money if you can get a memorable number as your short code. 7-Eleven, for instance, has the vanity short code 711711.

We’ve created an infographic to help you decide what number types might work for your messaging use cases. Download it for reference or share it with colleagues.

Whichever number type you use, you must obtain consent from the people you want to send messages to before you begin a texting campaign.

As you can see, if you need the highest possible throughput, a short code is the way to go. 10DLC and toll-free numbers don’t offer as high a rate of messages per second, but they can be more economical — which brings us to the question of costs.

Cost comparison

A lot of factors affect the cost of a text messaging campaign. This chart shows costs for the four different number types in the US. Plivo offers SMS services in 190+ countries — check our pricing page for up-to-date costs in the countries you’re interested in.

Each number may have three general types of costs: initial setup, monthly number rental, and per-message fees, some of which are charged by your carrier and some of which are imposed as surcharges by the carrier whose customers receive your messages. Note that carrier surcharges vary by carrier — Verizon may impose a different per-message charge than T-Mobile. We chose AT&T surcharge rates to illustrate this chart.

 10DLCLong CodeToll-FreeShort Code
One-Time Setup$44NoneNone$1,500
Monthly Fee    
— Phone Number Rental$0.50$0.50$1$500 regular,
$1,000 vanity
— Campaign$10NoneNoneNone
Per Message    
— Send SMS$0.0050$0.0050$0.0055$0.0045
— Receive SMSNoneNone$0.0055$0.0045
— Send MMS$0.0160$0.0160$0.0180$0.0200
— Receive MMS$0.0080$0.0080$0.0180$0.0200
Carrier Surcharge Per Message    
— Send SMS$0.0020$0.0050$0.0030$0.0030
— Receive SMSNoneNoneNoneNone
— Send MMS$0.0035$0.0050$0.0030$0.0030
— Receive MMSNoneNoneNoneNone

Making the best choice

That’s a lot of numbers to juggle. How do you know which phone number type to use?

If you’re already using SMS, go over a past bill and see how many SMS and MMS messages you sent and received. Multiply those numbers by the per-message rates for each number type, add in the monthly costs, and see what the total is for each number type.

If this is a new initiative you can do the same exercise but you’ll have to estimate your messaging volume.

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