Messaging • Last Updated 9/29/2023

What’s programmable SMS, and how can you use it?

Learn what programmable SMS is, how it differs from traditional SMS, and how developers leverage it for various use cases.


By Emily Bowen

Programmable SMS developer

Imagine automating communication processes with personalized text messages delivered at the perfect moment. Programmable SMS can help you do just that. This type of SMS makes it easy for developers to programmatically send and receive text messages on a large scale, which has implications for sales, marketing, customer service, healthcare, and transportation industries.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what programmable SMS is, how it differs from plain old SMS, and how it works. We'll also look at the different types of numbers you can send programmable SMS from and various use cases. Whether you're a seasoned developer or a business owner looking to enhance your customer engagement, this guide will give you an overview of programmable SMS and its potential to transform your communications strategy.

What is programmable SMS?

Programmable SMS is the ability to programmatically send and receive SMS messages using APIs (application programming interfaces). Programmable SMS allows developers to integrate SMS capabilities into their software applications, websites, or systems, allowing these platforms to automatically send and receive text messages based on predefined rules or triggers.

The difference between programmable SMS and traditional SMS lies in the level of automation and integration. Traditional SMS is the familiar method of sending text messages manually from one mobile device to another. It's a person-to-person (P2P) communication method that requires no programming or integration with other systems.

On the other hand, programmable SMS is typically used for application-to-person (A2P) communications. Programmable SMS allows businesses to automate sending SMS messages, making it possible to send large volumes of messages at once or to send messages based on specific triggers or events.

For example, a business might use programmable SMS to send appointment reminders, delivery notifications, marketing messages, or two-factor authentication codes.

How programable SMS works (the basics)

Programmable SMS is a powerful communication tool that allows businesses to send and receive text messages automatically and programmatically via APIs. Here's a simplified version of how it works:

1. API integration

The process begins with integrating your software or application with an SMS gateway through an API. The API is the software intermediary that allows two applications to communicate with each other. In this case, it's your business application (like a CRM, website, or app) and the SMS gateway.

2. Crafting a message

Once you’ve set up the integration, you can create an SMS within your business application. This SMS can be anything from promotional messages, appointment reminders, and one-time passwords (OTPs) to customer service responses.

3. Sending the message

The API facilitates sending the crafted message to the SMS gateway. The gateway is responsible for delivering your message to the recipient's phone number. It does this by communicating with telecom operators.

4. Message delivery

The telecom operator delivers the message to the recipient's mobile device. This entire process happens within seconds.

5. Receiving messages and status reports

Not only can you send messages programmatically, but you can also receive messages and delivery reports. The SMS gateway communicates with your software application through the API, updating it with the status of the sent message or incoming messages.

Bonus: Two-way communication

Some programmable SMS services offer two-way communication, allowing recipients to reply to messages. These responses can be received and processed by your business application.

By using programmable SMS, businesses can automate their communication processes, customize messages based on customer data, track delivery and read rates, and more—providing a versatile, efficient way to reach and engage with customers.

What kinds of messages can I send with programmable SMS?

It’s important to note that when we refer to “programmable SMS,” we’re referring to the capability of programmatically sending both SMS and MMS.

SMS, or short message service, is the protocol used to send mobile text messages from a person or application. SMS messages can be sent in high volumes and arrive in seconds.

MMS, or multimedia messaging service, is similar to SMS. However, MMS can send multimedia messages, which can include photos, videos, audio, or GIFs. While this type of messaging is more costly, the inclusion of multimedia can create a more engaging brand experience.

Whether you should send an SMS or MMS message will depend on your use case. SMS will suffice if you send a two-factor authentication (2FA) code, for example. But if you’re sending marketing messages or using messaging for customer support, the additional capabilities of MMS will enhance user engagement and experience. Luckily, you can send both kinds of messages via programmable SMS.

Take advantage of insights from 1 billion+ messages with our 2023 Guide to SMS and MMS. Download your copy to learn from Telnyx Messaging experts and shape your ideal SMS/MMS strategy.

What type of numbers can I send programmable SMS from?

You can send programmable SMS from several types of numbers, each with its own characteristics and use cases. Here are the three most common types:

Short codes

Short codes are five- or six-digit numbers used for high-volume A2P messaging. They can send many messages per second. However, they’re not voice-enabled and can take weeks to set up.

Toll-free numbers

Toll-free numbers are 10-digit numbers that start with a specific three-digit code (like 800 in the US). They can be used for both A2P and P2P messaging and can send hundreds of messages per minute. They’re voice-enabled and can be set up in up to 48 hours.

10DLC (10-Digit Long Code)

10DLC numbers are a type of long code number specifically designed for A2P messaging. They can send 5–15 messages per second and are a good choice for businesses with high-volume SMS campaigns.

The type of number you choose for sending programmable SMS will depend on your specific needs, such as the volume of messages you need to send, the speed at which you need to send them, and whether you need voice capabilities.

To learn more about these number types—and to find out which use cases are most popular for each—check out one of our other posts: Types of phone numbers and their business use cases.

Programmable SMS use cases

Programmable SMS is incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide variety of contexts to streamline communication and improve customer engagement. Below are some common use cases.

Transactional alerts

Businesses can use programmable SMS to send transactional alerts such as purchase confirmations, shipment notifications, and delivery updates. These types of messages help to keep customers informed in real time.

Appointment reminders

Medical practices, salons, personal services, and other businesses that rely on appointments can use programmable SMS to send reminders automatically, reducing the likelihood of no-shows.

Two-factor authentication (2FA)

You can use programmable SMS to send one-time passwords (OTPs) or verification codes as part of a 2FA system, enhancing the security of online services.

Marketing campaigns

Promotional texts or exclusive offers can be sent to subscribers, providing a direct line of communication to customers via SMS marketing campaigns.

Customer service

Businesses can offer support via SMS, responding to queries and resolving issues quickly. You can also set up automated responses to frequently asked questions to free agents up to answer more respond to more complex problems.

Emergency alerts

For organizations that need to communicate urgent information, programmable SMS can be used to quickly send emergency notifications or critical updates.

Surveys and feedback

Post-purchase or service, businesses can send a quick survey or request feedback, aiding in customer service improvement.

Internal communication

Programmable SMS isn’t just for external communication. Companies can also use it for internal communication, such as for sending shift reminders or updates to employees.

The possibilities with programmable SMS are vast and can be customized to fit the specific needs of each business, improving efficiency, engagement, and overall customer experience.

How much does programmable SMS cost?

Costs for programmable SMS can vary depending on what type of number you’re using to deliver your message. However, choosing the correct provider will be the largest factor in determining the cost of your messaging. You’ll also want to pay attention to the costs associated with sending messages to different countries and the volume of messages you send.

To give you an idea of how much SMS pricing can vary between providers, here’s a quick comparison of Telnyx pricing vs. Twilio pricing for SMS:

Local inbound and outbound SMS or 10DLC$0.004$0.0079
Toll-Free inbound and outbound SMS$0.0055$0.0079
Short code inbound and outbound SMS$0.007$0.0079

Additionally, some providers may charge more for inbound messages. Suppose you’re adopting SMS as a two-way customer support or chat channel. In that case, these additional inbound charges can add up quickly since you won’t be able to control the volume of inbound messages you receive.

Now that we've explored the ins and outs of programmable SMS, its various applications, and the cost implications, it's time to consider an important decision—choosing your SMS provider. This choice is crucial as it can significantly impact the success of your SMS strategy. The right provider ensures seamless integration and reliable service and offers competitive pricing and robust support.

Choosing your programmable SMS provider

Selecting a messaging provider can seem challenging, and the outcome impacts the success and ease of your messaging campaigns. Here are the top three factors you should consider:

1. Affordability

Is the service provided by a direct carrier that owns its own network or just a reseller of network services? Eliminating the middleman and partnering directly with a carrier could reduce your messaging expenses by as much as 70%.

2. Aid with regulatory compliance

Understanding the intricacies of messaging regulations can be a challenging task. Choosing a provider that integrates compliance and delivery controls and enhancements, such as seamless long message concatenation and management of opt-outs, is beneficial.

3. Hassle-free setup and premium support

Scaling messaging can be an intricate process. Your provider should ensure constant support, and there shouldn't be an extra cost for this service. The support quality is equally important, so go for a provider that consistently earns high praise for customer service.

Unless you have an extensive team of tech experts, consider a provider that offers a wealth of resources to help you start (like developer documentation, a Slack community, etc.). To simplify the transition, look for a provider with a streamlined, automated porting process with real-time CSR validation.

And when you're ready to incorporate programmable SMS into your strategy, Telnyx has the tools and expertise to help you succeed.

Choose Telnyx’s powerful SMS API for programmable SMS

Established in 2009 and licensed in over 30 countries, Telnyx delivers superior products and sets industry standards by eliminating the middleman. With a global network, full API support, and a team of programmable SMS experts, Telnyx makes it easy to port your existing numbers and start sending programmable SMS.

Partner with us to create your optimal communication solution. You’ll get award-winning support, compliance tips, and more affordable pricing than our competitors.

Talk to a Telnyx expert to learn how you can leverage programmable SMS in your industry to improve efficiency, engagement, and your overall customer experience.

Frequently asked questions about Telnyx programmable SMS

Does Telnyx operate its own network?

Yes. As a software-driven licensed telecom operator with its own private IP network built on a multi-cloud architecture with a global backbone, Telnyx can deliver a more direct and secure route for your messages. Connecting directly with all major cloud providers also allows Telnyx to offer unrivaled reliability to ensure you’ll always be able to send SMS or content-rich MMS messages across the globe.

Does Telnyx provide reporting and analytics?

From reporting on the health of the numbers you use to send messages, to the deliverability and click-through rates of your messages, Telnyx provides the tools and reporting you need to make changes to your messaging strategy that can help you improve the quality of your customer experience.

What type of support does Telnyx offer?

Your business is always running, so we’re always on. Telnyx provides 24/7 support 365 days a year from our network operating centers.. Telnyx offers phone, email, and live chat support for every customer, free of charge, so you can get the help you need whenever an issue comes up. You can also become part of our Developer Slack Channel and join hundreds of developers for their insights and our support.

How easy is it to integrate with Telnyx?

We’ve done the heavy lifting for you. Our engineers have developed quickstart guides and tutorials that allow you to hit the ground running when you’re ready to integrate messaging into your application. Visit our Developers Center for a robust catalog of SDKs in a number of coding languages like Python, Ruby, PHP, Node and .NET to help you programmatically build a powerful SMS communications platform with ease.

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