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Short Codes for Text Messaging – Q&A

Short code for texting

Are you considering using a short code for your text messaging service? Here’s what you need to know:<7p>

Q: What’s a short code?

A: In the U.S. and Canada, a short code is a 5- or 6-digit phone number that visitors could send text messages to instead of using a “regular” 10-digit phone number (area code + 7 digits, also known as a “long code”). Other countries support different length short codes.

Q: Does a short code cost the same as a long code?

A: No. iCarol provides long codes at no additional cost for text messaging subscribers and for clients trying out text messaging service. Short codes cost thousands of dollars per quarter (three months). Ask your iCarol representative for an exact quote.

Q: Is there any free trial for short codes?

A: Sorry, no.

Q: Eek! Why do short codes cost so much?

A: There are two major components to the price: 1) The short code lease cost and 2) The fee iCarol needs to pay to use our telephony provider’s phone number management architecture. The messaging component of your iCarol system is of course ours, but the requisite telephony architecture that allows iCarol systems to access and use the short codes belongs to the provider. Both of those costs are out of iCarol’s purview, and we need to pass these along to the clients who would like a short code.

Q: Are the text usage fees different for short and long codes?

A: Yes. Short code usage costs are less than half that for long codes. (Usage fees are based on how many messages you send and receive per month). But the savings in usage would in all likelihood come nowhere near balancing out the short code lease cost. Overall, short codes just plain cost a whole lot more than long codes.

Q: If I want to use a particular series of digits for my short code – maybe I want it to spell something, or have a series of repeating digits – is that allowed?

A: Yes. That’s called a “vanity” short code. And in the U.S., it costs thousands more per quarter than a short code that’s selected for you, which is called a “random” short code. In Canada, there is no difference in price between “vanity” and “random” short codes. Your iCarol rep can find out in a couple of days if a specific vanity code is available.

Q: Does it take longer to acquire a short code than a long code?

A: Yes. Your iCarol rep can set you up with a long code in a day or two – you just need to meet with our expert to select your favorite number from our stock of long codes, and then we’d assign it to your iCarol system lickety-split.

  • In contrast, iCarol does not have a stock of short codes but instead needs to apply on your behalf to the central short code clearinghouse. We’ll need your help to ensure your application will meet the strict (but not particularly difficult) application requirements.

  • Once the application is submitted, the application is reviewed by all the cell phone carriers. In both the U.S. and Canada, that process takes 12 to 16 weeks, and could take longer. In the U.S. typically carriers approve one at a time, and your iCarol rep can let you know how the application is progressing. In Canada, typically the central short code clearinghouse committee meets and all carriers decide at once.
  • Unfortunately your short code fees begin the moment the application is submitted. That means you’ll need to pay for your short code months before you’d get to use it. We’ve investigated this fully and have found no way around this.

  • Please let your iCarol rep know if you’d like to use a long code for practice while you’re waiting for your short code to be approved. We’re happy to help!

    Q: Is there an application fee for short codes?

    A: No. You only pay the quarterly cost from the time the application is submitted, and need to continue paying or the short code will be released.

    Q: Do short codes work in all countries?

    A: Short codes are country-specific, so if you acquired a short code in the U.S., it would only work in the U.S. Currently, we can support short codes in the U.S, Canada, and the U.K.

    Q: An earlier answer mentioned the two cost components: the short code lease and use of iCarol’s telephony provider’s architecture. Could I save money by leasing the short code myself? And what if I already have a short code, could I use that?

    A: You can indeed lease the short code yourself in the U.S and Canada (but not the UK) if you like, but we’d still need the services of our telephony provider, who would still charge us of course, and we’d have to pass that cost along to you. The net cost to you would be virtually the same, except if you already had an active short code, you wouldn’t need to pay for that initial downtime during the application process.

    Alternately, we can arrange to transfer control of your existing short code to our provider, with the cooperation of the entity that now controls your short code.

    Q: What if I want to use the short code for a while, say during the school year, then turn it off in the summer? Can I do that?

    A: Yes, you always have complete control over when your texting service is available. However you’ll need to keep your iCarol subscription and your short code active, so no cost savings there (except likely lower usage fees). If you let your short code subscription lapse, you’ll have to reapply all over again and there’s no guarantee someone else won’t have snapped up your desired short code in the period when you are no longer leasing it.

    Q: I see some services use a multi-part short code, such as “text helpme to 12345” What’s that all about? Will my iCarol short code look like that?

    A: In the above example, 12345 is the short code itself. “helpme” is what is known as a keyword. Some folks use different keywords with the same short code. They do that so they could use the same short code with a different keyword for different texting services, such as “text newcar to 12345” or “text chewinggum to 12345.” When you use multiple keywords with the same short code, that’s called a “shared” short code. Interestingly, when you add a keyword to a short code, the total keystrokes for a texter is no longer reduced and might be greater than texting to a long code.

    iCarol does not yet have the capability to use shared short codes, but please let us know if you’re interested in having us develop that for you. Please note you’d still need to get a short code. If you found a willing partner, you could potentially share the short code and development costs, but that would be an arrangement you’d need to make with a partner.

    Absent that development, your iCarol short code would simply be the short code itself, so visitors would text any message to 12345, without the need to also send a keyword.

    Q: If short codes cost so much, what’s the big attraction?

    A: Commercial enterprises like them because short codes can send 30 messages per second instead of 1 message per second that long codes support. That may be important for selling chewing gum, but generally it has not been a big selling point for our nonprofit clients whose traffic typically falls well within the long code sending range.

    Typically clients interested in short codes tell us they like them because they may be easier to market since they are shorter, and folks have said that to them, a short code somehow “conveys” that the number is a text messaging number. In reality, both short codes and long codes work reliably for text messaging. For marketing purposes, text enabling your existing helpline number is just as, if not more, beneficial. Here at iCarol, we offer both short and long codes to serve the needs of our clients.

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