Sending SMS in the UK

Navigate the regional rules of using SMS as a business in the United Kingdom.

Gareth Burroughes avatar
Written by Gareth Burroughes
Updated over a week ago

Did you know that in the UK, there are 76 billion text messages sent every month (Statista), equating to 3,000 every second? Not only that, but according to Ofcom, as of April 2020, 96% of adults in the UK own a mobile phone, and every single one of those phones is SMS- enabled. If you’re starting to think you should be making more of SMS as a business, you’re not alone.

In the UK, over 44 million consumers received a text from a business in 2018, and it’s not just direct to consumer models that are using the channel; the use of SMS marketing grew 197% as a strategy in B2B efforts from 2015 to 2017 (Salesforce), setting a clear trend for the future.

It’s clear to see why businesses are turning more and more to texting. SMS is a valuable channel for both reach, and ROI. But complexities of sending SMS as a business in the UK can often put brands off sending at all, mostly because there are a lot of options available to you. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the differences so you can find what’s right for you and get sending as soon as possible.


Gathering opt-ins

There are many way to get customers to opt-in for SMS marketing.

  • Asking for phone numbers at the point of customer sign up is a great way to build a database.

  • You can also use our pages and forms functionality to create on-brand data capture with ease, either on your site, or using an email campaign.

  • Provide incentives for customers to sign up via ‘text- to-join’ campaigns, by advertising a number online or in-person that they can text to opt in.

Whatever you choose, it’s important to ensure you have compliant consent to send to your customers.

While we provide many tools to help you manage your data and make life easier, we always recommend you speak to your own legal counsel or consult with the ICO in order to ensure compliance. A good place to start, is to check that the numbers you’ve collected for SMS marketing were collected with ‘explicit opt-in’. This just means making sure you’ve made clear you will be using SMS to contact your customer, and that you haven’t relied on assumed consent with inactivity or a pre-ticked box.

This is a requirement of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) act, which despite Brexit, currently still protects UK consumers. In the future, it’s expected that any new laws the UK introduces will be consistent with the rest of Europe in order to ensure business continuity. This means that to send to UK numbers, businesses must have GDPR compliant opt-ins.

Opting out

When sending marketing messages via SMS in the UK, you must also give your recipients the ability to opt out via the same channel. This means you must support replies in some capacity when sending marketing messages. Transactional messages, like order updates, do not require a way for recipients to opt out.

Key regulatory bodies


The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

Direct Marketing Guidance

A document from the ICO with advice on direct marketing such as SMS marketing.


The PSA sets and maintains the regulatory framework for the phone-paid services market through our Code of Practice

Numbers that businesses in UK can send from

You have a few options to choose from when sending SMS as a business in the UK. Each one has unique rules or restrictions, as well as benefits. Your four options include:

  • Alphanumeric ‘from name’
    Often displays as the name of the company. Can include letters and numbers.

  • Keyword on shared shortcode
    Customers must use a keyword when texting a five-digit number for the message to be routed to you.

  • Dedicated shortcode
    Five-digit number used exclusively by your brand.

  • Virtual mobile number (VMN), sometimes referred to as a long number
    Appears as a regular 11-digit mobile number but it used exclusively by your brand.

Which can I send marketing from?

Alphanumeric ‘from names’, shared shortcodes, dedicated shortcodes and VMNs can all be used for marketing in the UK. Whilst with most of these options you can simply tell recipients to reply STOP to opt out, alphanumeric from names do not support replies. This means that recipients can’t opt out by replying.

When sending marketing messages from an alphanumeric from name, you must include a number the recipient can use to opt out. For example, you could end you campaigns with To opt out text STOP to +44XXX XXX XXX. This means that if you intend to send marketing messages, from an alphanumeric from-name, you must also have either a shared shortcode, a dedicated shortcode or a VMN.

What else can I send?

You can also send transactional messages such as order confirmations, status changes, delivery updates and much more. These messages do wonders for the customer experience and reduce stress on company call centres.

So, what’s the difference between them all?

Let’s take a closer look at both options

Alphanumeric ‘from name’

To meet network requirements, SMS from names can be a minimum of three and a maximum of 11 mixed alphanumeric characters and numbers and cannot contain a space. SMS from names cannot be made completely of numbers.


  • Your company’s name will already be your default SMS from name. Ours, for instance, would be ‘Dotdigital’. However, you can have more than one from name if you wish, and any newly created from name can be set as your new default.

  • The main advantage of a from name is that your brand is instantly recognisable to your customers.


  • As we mentioned, this option does not support replies. You must also have another number within the message body which supports inbound messages in order to send marketing from an alphanumeric from name. This is not a requirement if you are just sending transactional messages such as order updates.

  • To use the name of a bank or telephone network as your from name you must first whitelist this with Dotdigital. This is to ensure only legitimate traffic is sent from these businesses.


Shared shortcode

A shortcode is a five-digit number shared by multiple companies. Because it’s shared, you must use an approved keyword in order to route messages to your business. For example, let’s say our shortcode is 12345, and our keyword is ‘Dotdigital’. Customers would need to send Dotdigital followed by their message in the body of the text, and send to the number 12345 for the message to reach us.

The minimum character count for a keyword is two characters.

There are two options for shared shortcodes: standard, and free text.



  • A cost-effective option

  • Keywords be instantly set up in-app

  • The most widely-used option for UK businesses

Free text

  • Free for your customers to receive a message from and to reply to

  • Ideal for text-to-join campaigns

  • Keywords be instantly set up in-app

  • The most widely-used option for UK businesses



  • Not ideal for text-to-join campaigns as your customers will be charged to reply

  • A UK shortcode can only receive messages from UK mobile numbers

  • Remember: you must include an opt-out message in your SMS when sending marketing messages from any option. Your opt-out message for shared shortcodes must include:

    • your keyword

    • your opt-out word

    • our shared short code.

Free text

  • Higher cost than standard

  • A UK shortcode can only receive messages from UK mobile numbers

  • Remember: you must include an opt-out message in your SMS when sending marketing messages from any option. Your opt-out message for shared shortcodes must include:

    • your keyword

    • your opt-out word

    • our shared short code.


Dedicated shortcode

Dedicated shortcodes are five-digit numbers used exclusively by your company. As with shared shortcodes, there are two options, standard, and free-text.


  • Not needing to share the number brings with it both a sense of sophistication with your brand, as well as confidence that your customers’ messages are being routed to you.

  • Using a standard dedicated shortcode can be a cost effective for high volume senders who wish to use the number across a number of areas of their busi - ness with different types of messaging.

  • You can still use the concept of keywords for differ - ent call to actions without the need to pay any extra. For example, you could set up an auto-responders, such as a competition, or text-to-join campaign, with - out the confusion or cost of an additional keyword.

  • It is possible to port or migrate dedicated shortcodes from other suppliers. This means you may be able to port a number already associated with your brand.


  • Set up time is longer than the shared option at six to eight weeks.


Virtual mobile number (VMN)

VMNs are sometimes referred to as long numbers as they consist of a 11-digit number, appearing as a typical phone number.


  • Like dedicated shortcodes, you can still use the concept of keywords for different call to actions without the need to pay any extra.

  • VMNs can be purchases instantly in-app.

  • VMNs are a cost-effective option, particularly for brands wanting with international customer bases as one number has the potential to be used across multiple


  • It is not possible to port or migrate VMNs from another supplier.

  • Inbound messages typically come out of the recipient’s bundle or are charged at standard network rate. If the number is not native to their country, it will be charged as their standard international rate.

See also

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