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Types of phone numbers for business texting

Alia Paavola
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Over the last year, mobile network operators added stricter requirements for business text messaging. New rules included a change for companies wanting to text Canadian customers and a requirement to register phone numbers before sending any business text message.

With these new SMS regulations putting increased pressure on businesses to comply, it’s become even more vital to choose the proper phone number for business texting. Choosing the right phone number will ensure you can properly register your brand and reach the correct customers without the risk of penalty.

In this article, we’ll discuss the different phone number options and how to choose one for your business and SMS use case.

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<h2 id="Different">Different types of phone numbers for business SMS</h2>

There are three main phone number types that businesses can use for texting: short code, 10-digit long code, and toll-free numbers. We’ll discuss these below, including the definition, pros/cons, and typical use cases.

10DLC phone number

A 10-digit long code (10DLC) is a local number approved for business texting. As its name suggests, the phone number is 10 digits long, similar to your standard cell phone number. 

Pros of 10DLCs:

  • Local area code. 10DLCs contain local and recognizable area codes, making them familiar to your customers and more personable than a shorter number.

  • Cost effective. 10DLC numbers have lower monthly costs than dedicated short codes. It costs less to register them and maintenance fees are just $15 per month. Short codes cost at least $500 per month.

  • High throughput. Registered 10DLC numbers have high message throughput. This helps ensure that your messages reach people quickly.

  • Voice capabilities. Most business long codes can be text-enabled. For example, Textline allows businesses to use their existing voice-only number like a landline or VoIP. This is beneficial if you have a phone number customers already know and use.

  • International texting. If you need to message or receive texts from customers in other countries (besides Canada), a 10-digit long code may be the best bet. Texts from 10DLCs can be sent to most international numbers.

  • Conversational SMS. 10DLCs support conversational texting. If you need true two-way texting, a 10DLC is a better option than a short code.

Cons of 10DLCs:

  • Carrier filtering. Many mobile carriers filter messages to protect customers from spam. This means carriers can filter or block business messages deemed questionable. When carriers block a message, they often don’t provide explicit reasons for blocking it.

  • Monthly fees. While 10DLCs are cheaper than short codes, they have registration costs and a monthly maintenance fee of $15. On the other hand, toll-free numbers don’t have these fees.

  • No texting Canadian numbers. Canadian mobile network operators require application-to-person (A2P) text messages to be sent via toll-free numbers. Text messages sent from 10DLCs using any internet-based software (like Textline or Textedly) to Canadian numbers will be blocked.

Common use cases

Given their high throughput, conversational messaging ability, and local appeal, 10DLCs are often used for the following purposes:

Toll-free phone number

Toll-free numbers are 10-digit numbers with a distinct three-digit prefix of 800, 833, 844, 888, etc. These phone numbers are called toll-free because they can be called from landlines at no charge to a customer. This phone number type recently became common for business text messaging.

Pros of toll-free numbers:

  • Cost. Toll-free numbers are the most cost-effective phone number type because they don't have registration or monthly maintenance fees.

  • Registration requirements. Although this may change in the near future, toll-free numbers have slightly more lenient registration requirements. Specifically, businesses can use either a website or social media page to register and don’t need a tax ID number, which can be appealing to smaller businesses.

  • Voice capabilities. If you want a phone number that customers can text or call, toll-free numbers are a great option. They support voice as well as SMS.

  • Canadian texting. If you don’t want to pay for a short code but want the ability to text Canadian customers, toll-free numbers allow you to do so.

  • Conversational messaging. Toll-free numbers support rapid two-way, conversational messaging.

  • High throughput. Toll-free numbers also support high throughput depending on brand and use case. 

Cons of toll-free numbers:

  • International texting. Toll-free numbers don’t support international messaging. This phone number type only works in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.

  • Group messaging. Toll-free numbers don’t support true group messaging. This is a feature offered by Textline to keep groups of people on the same page.

Common use cases

Toll-free numbers have many applicable use cases, just like 10DLCs. That’s because they pair conversational messaging and high throughput, making it easy to have two-way conversations and send mass texting campaigns. Here are the everyday use cases for toll-free numbers:

Short code number

A short code is a five- or six-digit phone number designed for high-volume text blasts. Brands often use these for large-scale text campaigns. Organizations can choose a vanity short code or a random one.

Pros of short codes:

  • Highest throughput. Short codes have the highest throughput of the different phone number types. They help brands send and deliver many text messages simultaneously.

  • Easy to remember. Since short codes are just five or six digits, they can be easy for customers to remember and become associated with your brand.

  • Less carrier blocking. Because of the hefty registration process, messages from short codes are less likely to be blocked or filtered by the carriers.

  • International texting. Short codes are supported in most countries. However, remember that you need to register a unique short code in each country that you want to text. For example, if you want to text customers in the U.S. and Canada, you would need one short code for the U.S. and one short code for Canada.

Cons of short codes:

  • Cost. Short codes are the most expensive phone number type. A random short code costs $500 per month and a vanity short code costs $1,000 a month. Additionally, there are often setup and registration fees.

  • Limited two-way messaging. Short codes were designed for bulk one-way messaging. While they accept replies, they are not built for conversational SMS.

  • Extensive registration process. The registration and approval process for short codes is lengthy. It often takes months to go through the process. A third party vets all brands and short code numbers must be approved by each carrier.

  • No voice. Short codes can’t be voice-enabled. This means they can only be used for text messaging.

Common use cases

Short codes are excellent for large-scale mass texting campaigns. As a result, here are some of the most common use cases for short codes.

<h2 id="How">How to choose the right phone number</h2>

To pick the best phone number type for your business, you’ll need to consider your audience, purpose, budget, and more. Answer these qualifying questions to narrow down your decision: 

Who do you want to contact?

A critical decision-making factor should be your audience or who you’re going to message. Each phone number type can reach customers in different countries and regions.

If you want to contact customers in Canada and the U.S. from the same number, toll-free is an excellent option. If you want to text with customers in other countries like Australia or the UK, a 10DLC may be better. If you’re a more regional business, a 10DLC with a local area code may be most engaging.

A perk of using Textline is that a business can add and use multiple phone number types within the same account to ensure they reach the right people.

What is your use case?

One of the most significant factors should be your use case or purpose for texting contacts. This will help you determine the features you need from your phone number. Here are some questions to help you understand what features you need:

  • Do you need conversational texting? Choose a 10DLC or toll-free.
  • Do you want both two-way and mass texting? Choose a 10DLC or toll-free.
  • Do you only need large-scale mass texts? Look into a short code.
  • Do you want business group messaging? Choose a 10DLC.
  • Do you want the phone number to have voice and text? Choose a toll-free or 10DLC.

What’s your budget?

Cost is another significant factor when choosing a phone number type. Short codes cost between $500 and $1,000 a month to lease from the U.S. Short Code Registry. This lease price doesn’t include registration fees, SMS platform costs, or messaging costs. This makes short codes pricy, but often worth it for brands that want high throughput for marketing messages and have a larger budget.

On the other hand, 10DLC and toll-free numbers are more cost-effective options. Businesses using a 10DLC must pay a $15 monthly maintenance fee to the Campaign Registry.

Toll-free numbers don’t have a registration fee or a monthly maintenance fee as of January 2024.

What do you want your phone number to look like?

Another factor, though more minor, is how you want your phone number to appear when you message customers. Do you want a short five-digit number, a professional-looking 800 number, or a local-looking phone number?

A visual look at the different types of phone numbers.

How quickly do you want to start texting?

If you need a phone number to start texting customers right away, a 10DLC or toll-free number is a better option. Though both phone number types require vetting, registration, and campaign approval, the process only takes about two weeks. 

The process for short codes is more extensive. Businesses must work with multiple entities, including each mobile carrier, to get their use case approved and number tested. This process takes about three to six months. Since the process is more rigorous, brands face fewer carrier filters once they have the number approved.

How many bulk messages will you send at once?

If you want to run large-scale mass texting campaigns, a short code may be your best option. Short codes can send up to 500 messages per second, registered 10DLCs can reach 180 messages per second, and registered toll-free numbers can reach 150 per second.

As you can see, all registered phone number types support high throughput, but if you’re running large campaigns with hundreds of thousands of contacts, short codes would be the quickest. 

Do you have all the registration requirements?

Some smaller or international companies may not have all the necessary information to register for a 10DLC or short code. The two missing requirements that come up most often at Textline are brands not having a tax ID number (EIN) or companies not having a working website. 

Although this may change in the near future, brands can register for a toll-free number without an EIN. This is a positive change for small businesses or international companies that may not have one. Companies can also use a claimed business social media page instead of a company website ONLY for toll-free number registration.

<h2 id="Comparison">A side-by-side comparison of the phone number types for A2P messaging</h2>

Here’s a visual chart of the differences between the different phone number types approved for application-to-person texting.

A comparison of phone number types for business texting.
*Until Jan. 31, 2024 toll-free numbers can text in a pending registration state
*Textline has seen phone number registration timelines decreasing in recent months

<h2 id="Textline">How Textline can help</h2>

Textline is committed to improving the registration process for our customers and making compliance easier. We’ve recently made in-app changes to help businesses comply with the new registration requirements. In particular, we made it possible to complete registration fully in the app and created a compliance tab for customers to check their status with ease. 

Get phone number choice right with Textline

Choosing the right phone number type and registering it properly will set your business up for success with SMS. 

Textline is here to help your business navigate this process and start texting your customers. If you have additional questions or want to talk to an expert from Textline, contact us here. 

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