It wasn't long ago that Short Message Service (SMS) short codes seemed to be central to every marketing campaign and business communication executed over text message. These formerly ubiquitous numbers have also helped support a variety of different use cases, including two-factor authentication (2FA), appointment reminders and more.

SMS short codes are not going to completely disappear from our lives, but their popularity and use is fading. Learn more about what short codes are, where they're headed and what's next.

What Are SMS Short Codes?

According to the Short Code Registry, SMS short codes are numbers that consist of between five and six digits and that are used by organizations to communicate with their contacts over text messaging. A company might use this technology to deliver automated notifications, facilitate promotions and more.

Businesses and other institutions may lease a dedicated short code or share their number with several other parties. With a shared short code, users often have to text a specific keyword to the number in order to opt in. Then, they can engage directly with the intended organization.

Past And Present Alternatives To SMS Short Codes

While SMS short codes have enjoyed strong popularity for several years, there have been alternatives for a long time. Enterprises that wished to text with their contacts have made use of additional options like:

  • Toll-free numbers: These are formatted like a conventional 800 number. Businesses are able to use their existing number or a new one for one-on-one texting with clients and other contacts, all without sacrificing voice functionality on the same number.
  • Long codes: Resembling conventional phone numbers, dedicated long codes have provided an alternative to shared short codes for more than 10 years. Long codes allow for non-marketing SMS traffic from businesses and other organizations.

In the past, long codes were not necessarily a suitable alternative for all of the use cases that short codes were capable of supporting. This meant that SMS short codes were frequently the option of choice for many organizations. However, a rising number of bad actors began to exploit short codes, particularly shared short codes.

Problems With SMS Short Codes

Chances are, at some point, you've been targeted by a smishing (SMS phishing) attack. More often than not, this malicious activity is delivered from a shared short code. Along with spam and other unsanctioned uses, this kind of illegitimate activity has left a mark on the industry, damaging users' perceptions of short codes in the process.

For example, a recent COVID-19 survey from the U.S. Census Bureau raised eyebrows in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. An article in the local newspaper helped assure wary residents of the communication's validity while acknowledging that readers were right to be skeptical of the text message, which was delivered from a short code and contained a hyperlink. The author even noted, "It's better to err on not answering a survey than to take the risk of divulging personal information to a scammer."

Clearly, the well-earned distrust that many users feel toward SMS short codes is not going away anytime soon.

10-Digit Long Codes (10DLC): The New Standard

To help address these concerns while continuing to provide institutions with a fully functional channel for reaching their contacts, 10-digit long codes (10DLCs) are emerging as the new standard. In a break from the long codes of the past, 10DLCs are suitable for a wider variety of use cases that leverage application-to-person (A2P) texting, including marketing. SMS short codes will not be supported in the coming months and years, meaning that organizations should prepare to transition now, if they haven't already done so.

One important guardrail that's intended to keep 10DLCs free of the problems plaguing SMS short codes is the requirement that entities must register specific A2P messaging initiatives with The Campaign Registry. Securing approval means 10DLC operators can deliver their communications with confidence.

If you're interested in making the change from SMS short codes to 10DLCs, contact our representatives today to find out how Swift SMS Gateway can help.