Inbound SMS at a glance

Your options for receiving SMS via inbound numbers

If you are looking for an SMS gateway provider, you surely already have an idea about what features you need. If you want to be able to receive SMS, you will also deal with inbound numbers sooner or later. Here at we offer different possibilities to receive inbound SMS. This post is intended to give you an overview of these options. We hope that it will help you to decide which one best suits you and your business.

What does inbound mean?

Inbound means “incoming” or “directed inwards”. It is the opposite of “outbound”, which means “going out” or “directed outwards”. This article deals with inbound numbers and inbound messages. In particular, we are talking about inbound mobile numbers. Inbound numbers allow you to receive messages on our platform. Even though the term is not clearly defined, it is usually used to refer to numbers that are not “normal” cell phone numbers that are used with regular smartphones. Instead, inbound numbers are usually integrated into systems that enable additional functions. These can be telephony systems, but also SMS gateways like ours. Our SMS gateway offers the decisive advantage that you can retrieve and manage incoming messages in various ways. The different numbers you can purchase have different perks. To give you a good overview, however, we will only deal with the inbound properties of the numbers in the following text.

What types of inbound are there?

In short, inbound stands for any kind of communication that comes in to your company from the outside. In our case you probably want to be able to receive SMS. This is especially useful if you use SMS for long-term communication with customers. We offer three different possibilities for you to do this, which we would like to discuss in more detail here.

For limited occasions: keywords and shared inbound numbers

With you have the option to receive SMS via one of our shared inbound numbers. Because we need to be able to associate the messages sent to these numbers with your account, you need a keyword. This keyword must be inserted at the beginning of the reply that your recipients send you. This allows our system to associate the message with your account when the message is sent to one of our shared inbound numbers. The keyword can consist of up to 50 characters. You can use alphanumeric characters, as well as hyphens and underscores. Your keyword is not case-sensitive. This means that upper and lower case is not relevant. For example, if you enter “training” as a keyword, your account will also be assigned the spellings “Training”, “TRAINING” and even “TrAiNinG”.

You can receive SMS via shared inbound numbers if you use keywords

This keyword variant of SMS reception is only suitable for limited purposes. For example, you can collect numbers of interested people who attend an informational event. If you want to continue the conversation after this first incoming message, the use of keywords and shared inbound numbers is not recommended. Therefore, keywords are often rather used to test the SMS reception. In addition, keywords can easily be entered incorrectly. So if your recipient enters “Trainer” instead of “Training” when replying, you will not receive the message. These kind of mistakes often happen when auto-correction is activated. If you want to receive SMS on a regular basis and need them to be reliable, you should invest in your own number. This will not only make it easier for your customers to reply, but your own number, without a keyword, will also be more reputable.

Keywords sent to shared inbound numbers

Advantage: No additional costs
Disadvantage: Keyword input is prone to errors, may appear dubious if used for actual long-term communication
Price: Up to 3 keywords for free

Dedicated numbers

In most cases it is wise to get a dedicated number. It is not only much more reliable than receiving SMS via keywords, but also much more reputable. This is simply because the number is assigned exclusively to you. With dedicated numbers you can make sure that the messages actually and exclusively reach you and you alone.

Moreover, you avoid confusion on the recipient’s side, that may occur because other companies use this number as well. Furthermore, especially in long-term communication, it is more than annoying for your customers if they have to type your keyword in every message. If you use your own number, many more customers will make use of the response option. With you can choose between two different dedicated number types. We offer physical and virtual telephone numbers. If you’re interested in booking your own number, please read our instructions in our helpdesk.

The physical phone number

A physical phone number is a mobile phone number in the classical sense. This means that it exists in the same way as your own private cell phone number exists. This is why the functionalities of the physical number are similar to those you know from your private number. You can receive approximately one SMS per second and messages from alphanumeric senders will also be delivered to you. For this reason, some companies use the physical phone number to make one-time passwords from two-factor authentication available to their teams.
The big advantage of having a physical number with an SMS gateway provider is that it is integrated into a system that allows you to retrieve the received SMS in different ways. Furthermore, a gateway like ours allows functions that go beyond just sending and receiving SMS, but as mentioned above, this is true for the physical AND the virtual number. Furthermore, you are free to choose the provider of the physical number.

Advantage: High availability, all SMS, also from alphanumeric senders, can be received without problems
Disadvantage: Throughput lower than with virtual numbers
Price: Starting at 19,90€ monthly, setup starting at 9,90€

The virtual phone number

Virtual phone numbers are connected directly via the network operators. They use the internet for data transmission and can, for example, forward calls to regular telephone lines. For our focus, SMS, virtual phone numbers are interesting for several reasons. For example, if you have offices abroad, virtual numbers from the respective countries inspire confidence in your recipients. Depending on the country, using a national virtual number can also result in lower costs for your recipients when they reply to your messages. For example, if you have an office in India, it may be useful to use an Indian virtual number to send SMS. Here the recipients pay less when they reply to an Indian number than when they reply to a German number, for example.

In addition, a virtual number has a higher throughput than a physical number: You can receive about 30 SMS per second with the virtual number. However, virtual inbound numbers cannot receive SMS from alphanumeric senders, as these are blocked.

Update 11/14/22: We can now offer virtual numbers from some countries that can receive SMS from alphanumeric senders. If you would like to purchase one, please contact our support.

Advantage: High throughput of messages, international numbers available
Disadvantage: SMS with alphanumeric senders are blocked (except for certain numbers, see update above from 11/14/22)
Price: Starting at 19,90€ monthly, setup starting at 9,90€

You have the choice

In summary, you have three possibilities to receive SMS via our gateway. You can use keywords that have to be sent to our shared inbound numbers. The first three keywords are free of charge. However, they are prone to errors on the user side, a bit cumbersome and less reputable. If you want to use a dedicated number, you can choose between a physical and a virtual number. Which number suits you best depends on your priorities and use cases. We hope the overview has shed some light on the inbound darkness for you. If you are not yet sure whether your company needs an inbound number at all, we recommend our blogpost “Should your company be able to receive SMS?”.

Have you already decided that you want to use your own inbound number? Read our helpdesk article for instructions on how to book your own number.

Best regards
Your sms77 team

Header picture by 6689062 via

Edit on 11/14/22: Added information on virtual numbers that can receive SMS sent by alphanumeric senders.

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