SMS messaging is everywhere. It’s possible to query Google for restaurants and information, download screensavers, and send text messages to your friends. Most providers also provide an e-mail to SMS gateway to allow the use of e-mail via a portable phone.

Companies are attempting to utilize this nascent technology; however, standard SMS messages require a full phone number. For a TV-based advertising campaign, memorizing an entire 10-digit number is simply too much to ask. Enter Common Short Codes (CSCs). A CSC is a 5-digit number that is recognized by all major wireless carriers.

Read on for information on short codes, as well as some examples of their usage.

Administration

Short codes are administered by the Common Short Code Administration, a part of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). All short code requests go through the CSCA which maintains a short code registry, similar to domain names. Short codes can be ordered directly through the CSCA’s website.

A Caveat

However, CSCs differ from domain names in one important respect—not all wireless providers are required to carry service for a given short code. According to the CSCA’s web site:

Do common short codes work with all wireless service providers?

Not necessarily. All wireless service providers will have the option of supporting (i.e., carrying traffic to and from the content provider that leases the CSC) each common short code and its associated application. The decision of whether or not to support a common short code is left to the sole discretion of each wireless service provider.

Costs

Please note, these costs are current as of 27 January 2005.

There are two types of CSCs available: a “chosen” short code, where the customer specifies the number to use, and a random one. The monthly registration fees are $1,000 and $500, respectively. The CSCA provides a form to check short code availability.

The costs of maintaining a short code do not end at registration. In order to operate a CSC an aggregator service is required. This company will communicate with all the major wireless providers and secure agreements from each one. This is necessary for a short code campaign to be successful across multiple wireless carriers.

Finally, the aggregator company typically charges set-up and monthly fees for maintaining the short code.

Examples

Google operates the short code `46645′ (or GOOGL). Google’s SMS service can provide product prices, restaurant listings by zip code, or word definitions.

American Idol, a popular reality TV show, used short codes to allow AT&T customers to vote for their favorite singer.

Finally, several companies sell products and services via short codes—one can receive a new wallpaper or ringtone via SMS by first sending a special message to a short code.

Summary

I have briefly outlined Common Short Codes and some of their uses. Short codes are a simple way to provide SMS-related services without the hassle of remembering a full phone number. What’s more, when properly deployed they can cover 99% of all wireless carriers in the United States.