Friday, May 14, 2010

The Debate: Are Shared Short Codes Safe?

A short code is a 5 or 6-digit number that is used for routing text-messages between cell phones and mobile services. (See our earlier post for a description of why you might use a short code in your marketing campaign). Wireless carriers route the messages through a connection aggregator to the application service provider (ASP) who is leasing the short code. Almost all wireless subscribers in the USA are able to access short code services.

A “dedicated” short code is dedicated to one company/brand for their text-messaging service. A “shared” short code is shared by multiple companies and runs multiple services.

Its nice to have your own dedicated short code, but it comes with a cost. The lease fee alone (paid to is $500 per month ($1,000 for a vanity code). You also need to contract an aggregator to provision your short code and an ASP to build and manage your application – the costs add up rather fast. Not to mention that it takes 2-3 months to provision a new short code.

Shared short code providers offer an inexpensive alternative. The shared codes are often used in conjunction with “self-provisioning” platforms that allow users to easily set-up and manage their own text-messaging services. Easy-peasy, so why would anyone want the hassle and expense of a dedicated short code?

There are a three reasons that I can think of-
1) No need for a keyword. If you do not want to use a keyword to route incoming messages you need a dedicated short code. For example, with text-to-screen services, its more user-friendly to ask the audience to simply text a comment, not text a “keyword” plus a comment to the short code.
2) You want to pick your own short code. Maybe for branding purposes (46835 'spells' INTEL) or you want a number that is easy to remember (like 20202).
3) You are worried about the other services running on the same short code.

Its #3 that causes people a lot of concern especially with the recent case where Clickatel's USA shared short code was disconnected by the wireless carriers when some "rogue" users ran non-compliant services (see story). It could also be that you just don't want your company or service associated with the $9.99 dating service running on the same short code.

But what if you don't have the budget to go the dedicated short code route? Shared short code services are a perfectly viable option. How can you protect yourself when using a shared short code service? Take a few precautions:
1) Try to stick with service providers who have been in business for several years.
2) Be wary of using any shared code that also uses self-provisioning services. It is virtually impossible to keep all services in 100% compliance when users are setting up their own services.
3) Ask the service provider about the other services that they are running on the same short code and have them outline the precautions they take to keep the system carrier compliant.

Once your service gains some traction, consider leasing a dedicated short code and shop around for the best deal for a connection. Don't just go to aggregators, ASPs can often provision your code on their existing network bind for a fraction of the cost (list of ASPs).

-Steve Nye