SMS: Long Codes Vs Short Codes

If you are relatively new to the mobile world, specifically SMS (text messages), then you may feel unsure about the differences between long codes and short codes. You are not alone, so let’s take a look at what you need to know about long codes, short codes and your SMS campaigns so you can make an informed decision.

Here’s an Overview of Long Codes Vs Short Codes


Long Codes
Short Codes
10-digit phone number for                sending SMS 
5 or 6 digit shorted phone number         exclusively for sending SMS
Slow: 1 SMS per second
Fast: About 40 SMS per second
Carrier regulations do not allow SMS broadcasting.
No limitations
Cheapest option
More expensive
US and International
US Only


Long Codes

A long code is a 10-digit phone number, just like your home or cell phone number.  This can work for or against you.

Good: For highly-local companies that seek for the user experience to feel local. Imagine that as you are waiting for the cable installation guy to show up, a local number appears on your phone with the “on our way” text message – it appears that a the installer is a local who took the time to text you, even though it was an automated SMS from a platform. Long codes are also useful for companies trying to reach international customers, whereas short codes cannot be used internationally.*  The other reason for companies to leverage long codes is that they are inexpensive to use.


Bad: There are no definitive guidelines for acceptable use of long codes in the US.  This means that there are no best practices or consumer protections, which can lead to spammers abusing SMS. Unlike short codes, long codes are not submitted to carriers or required to go through an approval process.  The biggest issue with long codes is speed –  messaging throughput on long codes is significantly slower than on short codes ( about 1 message per second). So you wouldn’t want to do any large SMS message blasts to a large database on a long code, rather you would best use it for one-to-one messaging.


Short Codes

A short code is a 5 or 6 digit phone number designated for text messaging, especially marketing messages.

Good: There are strenuous consumer protection regulations in the US put in place by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). These regulations prevent companies from sending unsolicited marketing messages to consumers. This ultimately leads to a better user experience for customers, because they are demonstrating interest in the company by choosing to opt-in for messages. Short codes are also significantly easier to remember, so promoting a text messaging campaign is thus easier too.


Bad: Only a limited number of countries use short codes, so they are primarily for bulk messaging in the US. The cost is higher than a long code, unless you are on a shared short code. Shared short codes are offered by some SMS platforms to reduce the overall cost of text messaging (sometimes even cheaper than a long code).

Key Considerations


Long codes are cheaper than dedicated short codes, but shared short codes are the best way for you to save money and achieve your goals. It works especially well if you are working with a text messaging provider that already owns shared short codes that have space for your company.


If you want to be up and running with your text messaging campaign today, then (again) you’ll want to work with a text messaging provider that already owns some short or long codes. Provisioning time for either long or short codes takes time, so keep that in mind. If your company wants a dedicated short code, then plan on 6-8 weeks for provisioning time and be prepared to spend a significant amount of money on it upfront.


For companies focused on brand recognition, short codes, especially dedicated short codes, are going to be the best choice.  A dedicated short code affirms that no other company can use that code to send messages. The dedicated short code becomes part of your branding and messaging. Taking it a step further, companies can even lease vanity short codes that spell out a specific word or phrase to connect with the brand.  This is helps with the company’s exposure on external media  such as radio contests or billboards, because it is easy to remember and easily aligned with the recognizable brand.


If your aim is to create an engaging SMS marketing program that you send to a large and growing list, then working with short codes are probably the best fit. This stays true for both platform and API users. Whereas, your small book shop in a highly localized community setting may only want to use a long code for a few messages with a small list with lots of one-to-one messaging.

long codes, short code