Short code

Short code

Short codes, also known as short numbers, are special telephone numbers, significantly shorter than full telephone numbers, which can also be used to address SMS and MMS messages from mobile phones or fixed phones.

They are designed to be shorter to read out and easier to remember than normal telephone numbers. While similar to telephone numbers, they are, at the technological level, unique to each operator, although providers generally have agreements to avoid overlaps. In some countries, such as the United States, some classes of numbers are inter-operator (U.S. inter-operator numbers are called Common Short Codes).

Short codes are widely used for value-added services such as television voting, ordering ringtones, charity donations and mobile services. Messages sent to short code numbers are generally billed at a higher rate than a standard SMS.


Normal telephone numbers (following the E.164 standard) form a prefix code: no numeral used as a telephone number acts simultaneously as the prefix of another, since conventional land-line phones have no mechanism to say "this is the end of the number". On mobile phones, numbers are sent all at once, so the network knows the end of the dialed number, and thus one can use short numbers without clashing with longer numbers.

For instance, on a land-line phone, one could not use the short code 12345, since then one could not dial the phone number 1 234 567 8901 (or 1 234 500 0000, or any other number that shared the prefix 12345), but on a mobile phone there is no such ambiguity.

Short codes and service identifiers (prefix)

Short codes are often associated with automated services. An automated program can handle the response and typically requires the sender to start the message with a command word or prefix. The service then responds to the command appropriately.

In ads or in other printed material where a provider has to inform about both the prefix and the short code number, the advertisement will typically follow this format:

Example 1 - Long version: Text Football to 72404 for latest football news. Example 2 - Short version: football@72404

Regional differences

Australia: Short codes are six or eight digits in length, starting with the prefix "19" followed by an additional four or six digits and two. Belgium: Codes are four digits in length. Canada: Canadian Common Short Codes can be five or six digits long. Common Short Codes beginning with a leading '4' are reserved for private use by wireless carriers. Four-digit Common Short Codes are not permitted due to handset incompatibilities. Short code-based messages vary between zero-rated (paid for by campaign), standard rate (user is responsible for standard carrier charges), and premium rate (varies, $1-5). Canadian Short codes are governed by the CWTA. Chile: Codes are three and four digits in length. Czech Republic: Messages sent to/from these short codes are known as Premium Rate SMS. Codes are 7 digits in length for MO and 5 (not billed) or 8 (billed) for MT direction, starting with 9, while two or three (depending on billing type=MO/MT) trailing digits express the price, e.g. SMS sent to 9090930 is billed for 30 CZK. Leading 3 digits are purpose type prefixes (908=micropayments, 909=adult content, 900=all other), digits at position 4 and 5 determinates the service provider registered by a network operator. There are also other 4 digit shortcodes, used by a network operators for service only purposes (operator dependent) Denmark: Codes are four digits in length. Finland: Codes are five digits in length. Germany: Codes are five digits in length. Greece: Codes are five digits in length. India: There are many companies in the Indian market who rent keywords, on a monthly basis, whose characters, on a typical mobile phone keypad, represent short codes. Short codes are five digits in length and have to start with the digit '5'. The five digits can be extended by three digits further representing 3 additional characters. Texts sent to these Short Codes are commonly referred to as Premium Rate SMS Messages and cost around 80 paise to Rs. 6 per text depending on the operator as well as the service. Indonesia: Codes are 4 digits in length with Rp. 2000,- (±$0.20) premium price. Republic of Ireland: Short codes are 5 digits in length, and start with 5. The second digit generally indicates the maximum price, with 0 = completely free, 1 = standard text rate only, 3 = €0.60, and 7 having no maximum. Codes beginning 59 are ostensibly intended for adult services, but few if any of these codes are used. Italy: In Italy short codes have no fixed length, starting from 3 digits up to 5. They all start by the digit "4", which is designated by a local telecommunications law for "network services". Famous short codes are in the 48xxx range, commercial ringtones & mobile stuff download. Lithuania: In Lithuania short codes also have no fixed length, starting from 3 digits up to 5. They all start by the digit "1", which is designated by a local telecommunications law for "network services". Malaysia: Codes are five digits in length, start with "2" or "3", premium pricing from RM0.30 up to RM10.00. Nigeria: Codes are four to five digits in length. Singapore: Codes are five digits in length. New Zealand: Codes are three and four digits in length. Panama: Codes are four digits in length. Poland: Codes are four digit long (starting with 9) and six digit long (starting with 118). Due to changes in Polish Numbering Plan planned for 2009, 9xxx format will be changed to 19xxx format. Short codes are reachable from both mobile and fixed networks. Since calls to 9xxx numbers are routed based on location of fixed number originating the call f(area zone the number belongs to), mobile users have to add area code (2 digits) before Short Code to identify area zone they want to reach. Serbia Codes are four digits in length. Sweden: Codes are five digits in length. The Netherlands: Codes are four digits in length. Norway: Codes are four digits in length. Turkey: Codes are four digits in length. United Kingdom: Codes are five digits in length, starting with 6 or 8 (codes starting in 5 and 7 exist, but are reserved for future expansion). Individual network operators may come to an agreement with customers, allowing any number to be used - except for adult content services, which must use codes starting with 69 or 89. Operators sometimes reserve codes with 3 and 4 digits long for their own use and customer services. SMS shortcodes are owned by holding companies who then lease them out to SMS premium service providers. Whilst it should be possible to stop most shortcode services by texting 'STOP' to the shortcode number, some of the more unscrupulous providers will not permit this, and 'bounce back' the STOP message by saying that the message failed to send. They often provide a 'customer service' number which you can call to complain, but these are premium-rate or national-rate (087x) numbers and often start with a long recorded message, for which you are charged, and then refer you to a further number, which in some cases can be unobtainable. United States of America: As of May 31 2006, the standard lengths for interoperable short codes are five and six digits. Carriers use short codes with fewer digits for carrier specific programs - e.g., "Text 611 to see how many minutes you have remaining on your plan." Codes starting with 1 are not permitted. Common short codes in the U.S. are administered by NeuStar, under a deal with Common Short Code Administration - CTIA. Short codes can be leased at the rate of $1000 a month for a selected code or $500 for a random code.

Alternatives to short codes for SMS reception

An alternative to inbound SMS is based on long numbers (international number format, e.g. +44 7624 805000), which can be used in place of short codes or premium-rated short messages for SMS reception in several applications, such as television voting, product promotions and campaigns. Long numbers are internationally available, as well as enabling businesses to have their own number, rather than short codes which are usually shared across a number of brands. Additionally, long numbers are non-premium inbound numbers.


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