Celebrating 20 Years of the Canadian Common Short Code

Maybe it’s our vast geography – or maybe just our friendly nature – but Canadians have always demonstrated a strong desire to connect with one another across great distances and regardless of one’s chosen wireless provider. And this desire to connect has served as an important catalyst for technological innovation. After all, it was Canada that birthed the BlackBerry and led the mobile email revolution in the late 90s and early 2000s. And we were early adopters of Facebook, too.

It should come as no surprise then that Canadian wireless providers were among the first in the world to launch text messaging services – otherwise known as short messaging services (SMS) – in 1992. At the time, SMS was only available for use between customers from the same wireless provider. In April 2002, SMS interoperability became available to Canadians for the first time. Since then, Canadians have shown an appetite for using SMS to connect with others and for engagement outside of peer-to-peer communications, much of which today is done through Common Short Code (CSC) messaging.

This month marks 20 years since the launch of CSC messaging in Canada on July 11, 2003 – a pivotal moment for both Canadian and international companies looking to engage with Canadian consumers. By providing a standardized system that allows businesses, organizations, and individuals to send and receive text messages using short, memorable, 5- and 6-digit numbers, the new messaging service took mobile marketing into the mainstream and helped pave the way for so much more.

According to recent data from the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), 64% of Canadians use texting to communicate with friends and family, ranking us first among the 13 countries surveyed. MEF also found 35% of Canadians said texting was how they prefer to hear from companies, ranking second.

These days, there are countless instances of organizations leveraging CSCs as a communications and engagement tool. For greater context, the number of active Short Codes in the Canadian market has grown 300% since 2008. The following are just a few examples of how different types of organizations are using CSCs today:

  • Retailers and restaurants use them to let customers track orders and deliveries.
  • Businesses of all sizes use them to book appointments, receive customer feedback, and provide technical support.
  • Governments at all levels use them to provide critical, time-sensitive information and public health notices, and to make it more convenient for citizens to access other services.
  • Charities have also harnessed the power of Short Codes, offering Canadians a quick and convenient way to donate to their favourite causes through the Mobile Giving Foundation Canada.

Later this year, Canada’s wireless service providers are supporting the launch of a new national texting program for mental health crisis and suicide prevention. The new program will be using 988 as the Short Code and will launch alongside a national hotline at the same three-digit number. The program will offer Canadians an avenue for obtaining potentially life-saving counselling, even if they are unable to call safely. *

Twenty years after its launch, the Canadian CSC messaging ecosystem continues to help connect Canadian businesses and organizations with their customers and supporters, even as the messaging space continues to evolve. One thing seems certain – Short Codes are here to stay!

* Mental health and suicide prevention help is still available in advance of the launch of 988 services this November. Currently, people in Canada who are experiencing mental health distress can obtain assistance through Talk Suicide Canada by dialing toll-free 1-833-456-4566. Residents of Quebec are encouraged to call 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553). Assistance is also available through text. Adults can text 741741 and youth can text 686868. Quebec residents can text 1-855-957-5353. Talk Suicide Canada’s text service is available in the evenings from 4:00 p.m. to midnight EST by texting 45645 (Standard text message rates may apply.)