US and Canada Messaging

    SMS messaging in the US is governed by the CTIA. Strict rules are in place to regulate US messaging, which makes the right SMS implementation a deceptively challenging experience. This guide outlines the best practices to ensure your messaging is in compliance with regulatory and industry standards.

    Unlike SMS in other countries, SMS features and regulations in the US and Canada are directly dependent on the source number used for sending an SMS. In the US, there are three possible types of source numbers that one might use to send an SMS:

    1. Local phone numbers (a.k.a. long codes)
    2. Toll-free numbers (1-8xx)
    3. Short codes

    To ensure high deliverability, it’s important to use the right source number type for your specific use case and daily volume. If you use the wrong source number, it may lead to excessive carrier filtering and poor delivery rates.

    At Plivo, we support all the available source number types in the US. We work closely with our customers to help them choose the right product for their business.

    Long codes

    Long codes are regular 10-digit phone numbers capable of sending and receiving texts and voice calls.

    Long codes have the following advantages over other source number types:

    • They are relatable,personal and therefore more likely to garner a response from the recipient.
    • They are easy to procure and set up. Plivo’s Phone Number API lets you programmatically search for and purchase phone numbers by region or prefix.

    Long codes, however, are meant for person-to-person (P2P) communication, or conversational SMS. They do not perform well or high volume one-directional application-to-person (A2P) messaging use cases.

    I your goal is to connect individuals on your platform without exposing their real phone numbers, then we recommend using a long code.

    On the other hand, if you wish to send out notifications at high volumes, then long code is not the right number type for you.

    To simplify working with long codes at scale, Plivo offers a dedicated product called Powerpack. With Powerpack, you can scale your conversational SMS use cases to millions of messages a day in seconds, all without having to write a single line of code!

    Toll-free numbers

    We’ve all come across toll-free numbers in our day-to-day life at one point or the other. These are the 1-8xx customer care phone numbers we are so accustomed to calling when we want to speak to a business representative.

    Toll-free phone numbers in the US can now be provisioned to send and receive SMS messages. Plivo is one of the few toll-free phone number providers who also has the capability to provision toll-free numbers for SMS.

    This type of number is a good choice for businesses of all sizes who want to engage with their customers at scale.

    Toll-free numbers have the following advantages over other source number products:

    • Best suited for official business communication as people already perceive toll-free numbers as business lines. Plivo can also enable your existing toll-free phone numbers to handle SMS.
    • They can be used to send text messages at a high rate (up to 40 SMS per second) at a relatively low cost.

    All good things come with caveats, and toll-free numbers are no different. Provisioning toll-free numbers for SMS can take up to three business days. You may also experience some deliverability issues during the initial ramp-up of your production SMS traffic. This is because spam filters for toll-free numbers are tuned to a high degree of sensitivity to ensure that the numbers are not abused by SMS marketers looking to send unwanted texts in bulk.

    As you get started with a toll-free campaign, Plivo can work directly with carriers to iron out any kinks that may surface during the initial ramp-up period. After that, it should be smooth sailing.

    Short codes

    Have you ever noticed that the text messages you receive from your bank or from other large institutions generally come from four- to seven-digit numbers that don’t look anything like regular phone numbers?

    These numbers are called short codes: special SMS only source numbers, typically provisioned by enterprises for their business-critical communications. This is because short codes offer the best possible reliability at the highest possible scale (100 SMS per second).

    The good news is that we’ve made short codes an affordable option for small and medium-sized businesses. Check out our short code pricing list.

    Short codes have the following advantages over other source number products:

    • Very high deliverability at maximum throughput (up to 100 SMS per second). You can be sure of your delivery metrics thanks to handset delivery receipts that are generated when the text message is successfully received.
    • Highly predictable delivery rates since your use case and SMS content shall be preapproved even before you start.

    The drawback is that the provisioning cycle for short codes is the longest out of all the available options — typically eight to twelve weeks. Why is that? Short codes and their corresponding use cases need to be preapproved by all network operators (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) before you send one text out.

    The good news is that once you’re preapproved, there will be no surprises once you actually go live.

    A side-by-side comparison

    Long CodeToll-FreeShort Code
    Regular phone numbers. Super personal.1-8xx business phone numbers.Four- to seven-digit specially provisioned and preapproved source numbers.
    Best for two-way conversational use cases.Best for business notifications and updates to customers.Best for business-critical notifications and updates to customers.
    Ready to use. Buy using Plivo APIs or console.Provisioning toll-free numbers for SMS can take up to three business days.Provisioning short codes may take up to eight to twelve weeks.
    Network delivery reports.Handset delivery reports.Handset delivery reports.
    Spam filters are tuned to block high-volume texting, as long codes are meant for P2P communication.Super sensitive spam filters tuned to block unwanted bulk marketing campaigns.Relatively relaxed spam filters given that the use case and content must be preapproved to begin with.
    Low rental cost.Relatively low rental cost for available throughput.Higher rental cost. Worth it for the high reliability at scale.