Short vs Long SMS Code

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Nisha Bhakar

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June 24, 2024

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Key Takeaways

  • Short codes are ideal for high-volume, time-sensitive messages and marketing campaigns, offering speed, reliability, and memorability.
  • Long codes are better suited for personalized, two-way communication and customer service interactions, being cost-effective and flexible.
  • Short codes have higher throughput and are prioritized by carriers, ensuring faster delivery, while long codes have lower throughput and may face delivery delays.
  • Short codes are more expensive and require longer setup times due to carrier approval, whereas long codes are cheaper and quicker to set up with minimal approval.
  • Both short and long codes must comply with regulations like TCPA, with short codes being more commonly used for mass notifications and long codes for direct, one-on-one communication.

The average SMS marketing response rate is 45%, compared to email's average response rate of less than 10%. Short and long codes serve as the foundation for sending these SMS or text messages, and understanding the differences between them is crucial for businesses aiming to leverage SMS for marketing, customer service, or any other form of communication.  

This article explores what short and long codes are, the key differences between them, the pros and cons of each, the types of brands using them, and how to choose the best option based on your requirements.

What is a Short Code?

A short code is a 5–6-digit phone number used primarily for sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages. Short codes are often used for high-volume messaging campaigns, such as marketing promotions, alerts, and two-factor authentication. They are easy to remember and can be either shared (used by multiple brands) or dedicated (used exclusively by one brand).

What is a Long Code?

A long code, also known as a virtual mobile number (VMN), is a standard 10-digit phone number used for person-to-person (P2P) communication and application-to-person (A2P) messaging. Long codes are typically used for low-volume messaging, such as customer service inquiries, appointment reminders, and two-way communications where a response from the recipient is required.

Differences Between Short and Long SMS Codes

  1. Length and Format:
    • Short Codes: Typically, 5-6 digits long, easy to remember.
    • Long Codes: Standard 10-digit phone numbers, similar to regular telephone numbers.
  1. Use Cases:
    • Short Codes: Used for high-volume messaging like marketing campaigns, mass notifications like text blasts, and authentication messages like SMS verification.
    • Long Codes: Suitable for lower-volume, person-to-person communications and two-way interactions such as customer service.
  1. Message Volume and Throughput:
    • Short Codes: Capable of sending a large number of messages quickly, with high throughput rates (up to thousands of messages per second).
    • Long Codes: Designed for lower message volumes, with throughput typically limited to 1 message per second per long code.
  1. Speed and Delivery:
    • Short Codes: Prioritized by mobile carriers, ensuring faster and more reliable delivery.
    • Long Codes: Not prioritized, which can lead to slower delivery times, especially during peak periods.
  1. Cost:
    • Short Codes: More expensive due to leasing fees and carrier approval processes, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars per month.
    • Long Codes: Generally cheaper to obtain and maintain, making them more cost-effective for small businesses and lower-volume messaging needs.
  1. Setup Time:
    • Short Codes: Longer setup time due to the need for carrier approval and provisioning, which can take several weeks.
    • Long Codes: Faster setup with minimal approval requirements, allowing for quick deployment.
  1. Carrier Compliance and Approval:
    • Short Codes: Require carrier approval and compliance with specific guidelines to prevent spam and ensure legitimate use.
    • Long Codes: Subject to fewer carrier restrictions but may face spam filtering if used for high-volume or unsolicited messaging.
  1. Memorability:
    • Short Codes: Easier for users to remember and recall, making them ideal for SMS marketing campaigns and promotions.
    • Long Codes: Harder to remember due to their length, but suitable for one-on-one communication where memorability is less critical.
  1. Two-Way Communication:
    • Short Codes: Primarily used for one-way communication (sending messages). Two-way communication is possible but less common.
    • Long Codes: Ideal for two-way communication, enabling interactive messaging and customer engagement.
  1. Geographic Reach:
    • Short Codes: Country-specific, meaning different short codes are needed for different countries.
    • Long Codes: Can be used internationally without the need for different codes, offering a broader geographic reach.
  1. Reliability:
    • Short codes: Due to their prioritization by carriers, short codes have a high delivery rate and are less likely to be flagged as spam. This makes them reliable for time-sensitive communications and important information like an OTP verification.
    • Long codes: Long codes can be less reliable for high-volume campaigns as they are more likely to be flagged by carriers as potential spam, affecting delivery rates. However, they are sufficient for one-on-one communications and smaller-scale interactions.

Pros and Cons of a Short Code


  1. High Throughput: Capable of sending large volumes of messages quickly.
  2. Memorability: Easy to remember, which is beneficial for marketing campaigns.
  3. Carrier Support: Prioritized by carriers, ensuring faster delivery and higher reliability.
  4. Compliance: Often comes with pre-approved templates that comply with carrier regulations.


  1. Cost: More expensive to lease and maintain compared to long codes.
  2. Setup Time: Requires a longer setup period, including carrier approval, which can take several weeks.
  3. Limited Interactivity: Generally used for one-way communication, not ideal for interactive two-way messaging.

Pros and Cons of a Long Code


  1. Cost-Effective: Generally cheaper to obtain and maintain than short codes.
  2. Two-Way Communication: Ideal for interactive messaging and customer service interactions.
  3. Quick Setup: Faster setup time without the need for carrier approval.
  4. International Reach: Suitable for global communications without the need for different short codes in different countries.


  1. Lower Throughput: Not designed for high-volume messaging, which can lead to delays.
  2. Spam Risks: More likely to be flagged as spam by carriers, affecting delivery rates.
  3. Less Memorable: Ten-digit numbers are harder for customers to remember compared to short codes.
  4. Carrier Restrictions: Some carriers may restrict the use of long codes for certain types of messaging, particularly marketing campaigns.

Types of Brands Using Short and Long Codes

Short Codes:

  • Retail and E-commerce: For promotions, discounts, and marketing campaigns i.e. SMS for retail.
  • Financial Institutions: For sending OTPs (One-Time Passwords) and transaction alerts.
  • Healthcare: For appointment reminders and health alerts.
  • Government and Emergency Services: For mass notifications and emergency alerts.
  • Entertainment: For voting, competitions, and event notifications.

Long Codes:

  • Customer Service: For handling inquiries and support requests.
  • Small Businesses: For localized marketing and communication with a smaller customer base.
  • Appointment-Based Services: For scheduling and reminder messages.
  • Education: For communicating with students and parents on a more personal level.
  • Professional Services: For client communication and follow-ups.

How to Choose What’s Best for Your Business

When deciding between short codes and long codes, consider the following factors:

  1. Message Volume: If you need to send a high volume of messages quickly, short codes are the better choice. For lower volume, interactive communication, long codes are suitable.
  2. Budget: Short codes are more expensive due to leasing costs and setup fees. Alternatively, businesses can work with an SMS API provider or aggregator like Message Central to acquire a short code on their behalf. These providers are well-versed in the application process and can guide businesses through the necessary steps and offer cost-effective solution.
  3. Use Case: Determine whether your primary need is for marketing and alerts (short codes) or customer service and two-way communication (long codes).
  4. Memorability: For campaigns where easy recall is important, short codes are advantageous. For direct, personal communication, long codes suffice.
  5. Geographic Reach: If your audience is international, long codes can be more practical due to their global compatibility.

Use Cases of Both Short and Long SMS Codes

Short Code Use Cases:

  1. Marketing Campaigns: Sending promotional offers, discounts, and product launches to a large audience.
  2. Alerts and Notifications: Sending time-sensitive alerts such as weather warnings, school closures, and security alerts.
  3. Authentication: Sending OTPs for secure login and transaction verification.
  4. Voting and Contests: Allowing users to participate in polls, contests, and surveys.

Long Code Use Cases:

  1. Customer Service: Handling customer inquiries, providing support, and troubleshooting issues.
  2. Appointment Reminders: Sending reminders for medical appointments, salon visits, and service appointments.
  3. Personalized Communication: Engaging with customers on a one-on-one basis for feedback and follow-ups.
  4. Order Updates: Sending order confirmations, shipping updates, and delivery notifications.
  5. Two-Way Interaction: Enabling direct interaction with customers for reservations, bookings, and consultations.

Other Important Facts and Figures

  1. Regulatory Compliance: Both short and long codes must comply with regulations such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in the U.S., which mandates obtaining explicit consent from recipients before sending marketing messages.
  2. Market Trends: According to a report by Statista, the global A2P SMS market is expected to grow from $62.1 billion in 2020 to $74.7 billion by 2025, driven by the increasing use of SMS for business communications.
  3. Delivery Rates: Short codes typically have delivery rates close to 100% due to carrier prioritization, while long codes may experience slightly lower delivery rates due to spam filtering.


Choosing between short codes and long codes depends on your specific business needs, budget, and communication goals. Short codes are ideal for high-volume, time-sensitive messages and marketing campaigns due to their speed, reliability, and memorability.

Long codes, on the other hand, are more suited for personalized, two-way communication and customer service interactions, offering a cost-effective and flexible solution. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each type of SMS code allows businesses to make informed decisions and leverage SMS effectively for various applications.

You can get in touch with the team at Message Central for all your communication needs.

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