Obtaining a Canadian Short Code: Costs, Benefits and Alternatives
Over the last year or so, Canadian mobile carriers have slowly been dropping support for shared short codes.
This means that if you want to send SMS messages in Canada in 2022 and beyond, you can't do it over a shared short code.
In fact, you may need to consider obtaining a dedicated short code for your business or organization.
So let's talk about short codes and their alternatives and how to send SMS/MMS in Canada in 2021 and beyond.
What is a Short Code?
A short code is a 5 or 6 digit number used specifically for the sending of SMS / text messages.
What makes short codes different from standard 800-series phone numbers and long codes (i.e., regular phone numbers)?
Two main things…
- They have higher throughput, starting at 30 messages/second.
- They are “registered” with the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA).
During the 3-month application process the CWTA evaluate your use case and intended messaging practices and if appropriate, will approve the shortcode for use by your business or organization.
Provided you don't start spamming your contacts or deviate from the intended messaging practices outlined in your application, your messages are free from filtering and delivered directly to your audience.
Like its name suggests, a shared short code is one that has multiple businesses and organizations “piggybacking” on it, all sending messages from the same 5 or 6 digit number.
The shared code is usually registered to a 3rd party messaging provider who provides access to it, allowing their clients to send SMS messages affordably and with highly predictable success rates.
Note: We started our business with shared short codes.
In a word? Spam.
Many of the 3rd party SMS messaging providers who leased these shared shortcodes were barely doing any screening to ensure that only genuine businesses who had the appropriate legal permission for messaging were using their services.
As a result, anyone and everyone could get access to a shared short code, which resulted in widespread messaging abuse, elevated out-outs, and spam complaints.
Since the carriers' main interest is the preservation of text messaging as a viable communication channel free of spam and promotional garbage, they decided to phase out support for shared shortcodes.
Now, if you want to send SMS with a short code, you need your own.
Note: There is one exception: access to a shared short code can be obtained for 2FA (two-factor authentication) messaging only. Contact us for more details.
What are the Benefits of Having a Canadian Code?
There are several…
- No message filtering: Your messaging has been approved for transit on the carrier network and as a result, won't be filtered or blocked.
- No bad actors: Since you're the only one sending messages on this number, you don't have to worry about the bad behavior of others potentially impacting your access to the network or your delivery rates.
- Acceptable for high volume: Short codes are designed for high volume messaging and have a throughput of 30 messages/second which makes them ideal for organizations that have to reach a large number of contacts very quickly.
- Full Canadian sovereignty: If it's critical that none of your messaging ever crosses the U.S. border, then a Canadian short code is your only option for sending SMS.
What are the Downsides of Having Your Own Short Code?
The primary downside is cost, which I'll discuss more in a moment.
- Some people have a negative perception of them—associating them with spam or commercial messaging and assuming messages sent over such numbers incur a cost (not usually).
- Others are unsure how to interact with them because they don't look anything like the “regular” phone numbers to which they are accustomed (this is problematic when you're trying to build an opt-in list of subscribers by having people text a keyword to a shortcode – i.e., “text PIZZA to 78945”).
- In addition, Canadian carriers don't yet fully support MMS (image and text) over short codes, which means you're limited to sending SMS only.
What does it Cost to Get a Canadian Shortcode?
If there's one major downside to having a Canadian short code, it's the cost.
Here's what you're looking at…
- Initial set up fee and 3-month lease (paid to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association): $1500
- One time carrier provisioning fee for new short codes (paid to tier 1 aggregator): $3,000
- Ongoing monthly fee (starting month 4, paid to CWTA): $350.00 / month
- Short code hosting with tier 1 aggregator (paid to tier 1 aggregator): $500 / month
And then, of course, there's the cost to send the messages themselves—these costs are just to host and maintain the shortcode—not a single message has been sent yet.
Where Can I get a Shortcode?
If the costs haven't frightened you off, you can obtain a Canadian shortcode here.
Is There a Low Cost Alternative to Shortcodes?
While Canadian short codes are without a doubt a great option for sending SMS, their high cost makes them impractical for many businesses and organizations. Luckily, there is a low cost solution in VTFNs (verified toll free numbers).
This toll-free number is registered to your business and approved for the sending of SMS and/or MMS. Throughput on a VTFN is 3 messages/second by default for SMS but can be bumped up for a fee.
There is an approval process that takes about 3–6 weeks to complete.
You will need to have the express consent of your subscribers (as defined by Canadian law) in order to be approved for messaging on a VTFN.
Is there a Downside to VTFNs?
While verified toll free numbers are a fantastic affordable option for sending SMS/MMS is Canada, there are a few downsides…
- Some filtering possible: Even messaging sent via a Verified toll-free number can be subject to filtering if the messages are “false flagged” by a carrier or your messaging falls outside of parameters defined in your approval process.
- Canadian sovereignty issues: Messages sent via VTFN are routed via US aggregators. We are not aware of any tier 1 Canadian aggregator with direct access to the carrier networks for such messages. That means if you need 100% Canadian sovereignty, only a short code will do.
- Verified toll-free numbers are not supported by all carriers yet.
Summing it Up: Canadian Short Code Vs the Alternatives
So what's best for you? A short code or one of the alternatives?
If you need full Canadian sovereignty and guaranteed delivery on all the major Canadian carrier networks, you need a Canadian short code.
If you're OK with client data residing on Canadian servers while your messaging is routed through US aggregators, and a small amount of filtering is acceptable, then you can use MMS over long codes or a VFTN.