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CTIA Debuts Universal SMS Short Codes

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association's (CTIA) carrier members have launched common short code (CSC) capability via five-digit numbers, opening the way for marketers and brand managers to better engage consumers via SMS.

For marketers, the new cooperation on short codes could provide a platform for the first truly user-friendly cross-carrier campaigns in the U.S., since short codes are easier to remember than the 10-digit phone numbers used in peer-to-peer SMS traffic.

"This initiative is an important first step that will enable common short codes to take their place alongside more traditional promotional channels," said Glenice Maclellan, VP of messaging services at AT&T Wireless.

The news could also make it easier to deploy large-scale short code campaigns that charge premium rates for participation. Premium rate SMS has long been touted as a way for carriers to earn incremental revenue in partnership with content providers and other brands interested in mobile marketing.

Applications well suited to short codes include sweepstakes, tele-voting campaigns, contests, mobile coupons and other promotions.

Participating mobile operators include ALLTEL, Cricket Communications, Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless Services, Dobson Cellular Systems, T-MobileUSA, Virgin Mobile USA, Cingular Wireless, Nextel Communications, U.S. Cellular and Western Wireless.

Previously, short codes were limited to individual carrier networks, and any cross-carrier support was achieved only via cumbersome negotiation. In this manner, cross-carrier short codes were tried several times over the summer, usually with the third party help of mobile technology and marketing firms like Enpocket, mQube or Mobileway.

CTIA members said they now expect marketers in many sectors and business categories to use short codes to directly interact with prospects and customers. They expressed optimism that the integration of short codes would quickly bring the lagging U.S. market up to speed with European and Asian levels of text-addiction.

"The simplification of common short codes is critical for the development of the market and will bring the service innovation and revenue generation that have been a reality in Europe for years," said Jim Queen, VP of North American operations for wireless marketing firm Mobileway.

John Windolph, CTIAs SVP of business development agreed: "The European market for CSCs has exploded and we expect similar consumer participation in the United States."

It's not yet clear how realistic that expectation is. Jupiter Research, which shares a parent corporation with this site, says the adoption of SMS in the U.S. significantly trails Europe and Asia and will continue to do so.

A Jupiter Research survey last August asked consumers to rate their interest in various forms of wireless communication. Using SMS to participate in TV promotions and sweepstakes as well as other automated SMS services ranked low with online consumers aged 35 and over. Consumers ages 18 to 34 had only moderate interest in these activities.

Cross-carrier short codes are five digits long and marketers can reserve them for three, six or twelve month periods. Applicants choose between randomly allocated codes ($500 per month) or specific codes ($1,000 per month) for their promotional programs.