| May 10, 2021

CTS Connects Podcast: STIR/SHAKEN - What you need to know

Nuisance calls effect every aspect of our personal and working life — we ignore calls because they might be fraud and they interrupt our everyday and working lives.

STIR/SHAKEN is a new phone call technology standard, mandated by the end of June 2021 to protect against fraudulent callers. It will offer new opportunities as well as advanced communications and better safety. Comcast has been a pioneer in STIR/SHAKEN for the past two years and has become a public certificate authority — we’ve got a lot to share!

This podcast explores the following:

  • What is STIR/SHAKEN and where did it come from?
  • What the state of the industry means for STIR/SHAKEN?
  • What Comcast learned from being a pioneer STIR/SHAKEN provider
  • When does it have to be implemented and what does it mean for you?
  • How COVID has changed the way we talk

Host: Phil Voelker

  • Carlos Belloso, Senior Director, Product Management, Comcast Technology Solutions
  • Joel Balistreri, Product Sales Account Manager, Comcast Technology Solutions

Listen as we cover the future of unified communication.

Want to connect with our speakers or ask a question? Contact us.


Speaker 1:        You're listening to the CTS Connects Podcast from Comcast Technology Solutions. Visit comcasttechnologysolutions.com/cts-connects to explore more.

Phil Voelker:     Well, hello and thanks for joining us here at Comcast Technology Solutions for another CTS Connects podcast. So today we've got a lot to talk about in the world of voice telephony. 2021 is bringing some big changes exemplified by the new STIR/SHAKEN technology standard. Now, the genesis of this new standard was a desire to develop a better way to protect callers and companies from fraudulent, spoofed numbers. But the new technology also opens up some interesting new business opportunities as well, and so we're going to talk a little bit about all of that. Joining me today are Carlos Belloso, senior director for Comcast Technology Solutions and Joel Balistreri, also an account executive with Comcast Technology Solutions who's focused on the voice space and how it's evolving. Gentlemen, welcome.

Joel Balistreri:   Hey, thanks so much, Phil. Thanks for the intro, and I'll go ahead and kick it off. We're going to be talking mostly about STIR/SHAKEN today. And for those you don't know, Comcast was one of the pioneers in the STIR/SHAKEN technology. You were extremely active with ATIS and we serve on that board. And actually in April of 2019 Comcast was one of the first networks to deliver and implement STIR/SHAKEN for all of its many subscribers. And from a wholesale perspective, we've been working with our customers and we're accepting headers today, and there's no need for lab testing. We've done enough. We don't have to go in through labs so we can start setting headers today.

Phil Voelker:     Gotcha. That was April of 2020?

Joel Balistreri:   That was April of 2019.

Phil Voelker:     Ah, April of 2019, so we've been working on this for a while.

Joel Balistreri:   Exactly. So in April will be two years and you know, Comcast is a public certificate authority; and like I'd said earlier, we've reached out to most, if not all of our customers and we spent quite a bit of time discussing their needs and kind of gathered their thoughts about STIR/SHAKEN directly as it relates to their customer/vendor relationship. We also gathered a lot of thoughts about STIR/SHAKEN in the industry and how things are changing and evolving with this.

                        Some are well ahead of others, but we did learn quite a bit through this interaction with our customers. We're finding some providers out there that are offering STIR/SHAKEN as a product, which Comcast is doing, but there are a lot of providers out there that are just clearing houses and they're bundling it in with their other CNM services. And it's really turning into a free application.

Phil Voelker:     Interesting.

Joel Balistreri:   Yeah, very interesting. I'm not sure exactly how that plays out on the financial side, on the business side, but that's one of the things that we are seeing. And then some customers are having to piece part their solutions together where they do have some in-house specialty, and they can develop up to a certain point and then they're bringing others like Comcast to help finish off their product. And then there are some providers that they're kind of limited to the switch that they use and they were behind in development. And the big thing with that is being the compatibility and they must rely on the switch vendors' solution.

Phil Voelker:     So they're limited by what the partner can do.

Joel Balistreri:   Exactly.

Phil Voelker:     Gotcha.

Joel Balistreri:   Carlos, do you have any thoughts on this?

Carlos Belloso:  Yeah, it was kind of a... In hindsight, it's not surprising. At the moment, it was surprising for us to figure out that there are businesses out there that are including STIR/SHAKEN "for free".

Joel Balistreri:   What, STIR/SHAKEN?

Carlos Belloso:  Yeah, thank you. Constantly. As Comcast Technology Solutions, Joel and I's main job is to leverage existing capabilities and assets that Comcast has to productize a wholesale offering. So clearly like, like Joel said, since we pioneered the STIR/SHAKEN technology, we definitely pursued and tried to discover what we could do for our customers, but we're not competing with free. And clearly it's not free. Some of those businesses have to include it in their bundles because the rest of their services are dwindling to some degree with the changes in technology. So for the time being, we have it in our product portfolio, because sooner or later customers are going to need this from us as the business evolves. But as of now, it's something that, like Joel said, we're a public certificate authority. We'll continue to be a strong player in and provide the services as our customers need it.

Phil Voelker:     Gotcha. So really it's almost like there's... A good way to look at it, at least, is that there's essentially two pieces to it. There's the STIR/SHAKEN architecture, which again, is mandated for the end of June. It has to be implemented. And then once that's implemented, what do you, as a business, do with that in order to provide better services for your callers?

Carlos Belloso:  Bingo! That is it!

Phil Voelker:     Everybody gets some agency in terms of a business. How do you want to approach that now you've got this interesting new way to improve the lives of callers? And you as a business, get to figure out how you want to, as you said, productize it.

Carlos Belloso:  Yeah. You know, the industry is transforming so rapidly. And especially since living through Corona, that has simply accelerated some of these technologies and changes in technology, rather.

Phil Voelker:     Mmm-hmm (affirmative).

Carlos Belloso:  But what you said is, what we do with this technology? You're right that STIR/SHAKEN has been mandated. So U.S Carriers are going to have to be compliant by June 30th. And to Joel's point, we see before we were all struggling in the industry to deal with nuisance calls altogether, and some degree of skepticism, because there isn't a silver bullet to fix this. We got over that as it relates to STIR/SHAKEN because the FCC has ordered all of us to adopt it now. With so much emphasis on becoming compliant and making sure that you can add your token, if you have subscribers, that's where we're going to be by June 30th, for the very large majority of the industry.

                        What's interesting, and one of those side conversations that we have with customers, and as we "geek out" on where what's happening is even if everybody is ready today, those calls are still being routed through what has for decades been known as least-cost routing engines. What the engines do is they chase the lowest cost to terminate a call, to connect the call to the far end. So even though you have that token there, if that behavior doesn't change because it's so ingrained in the industry, we're still going to be routing these calls that might end up touching a TDM network or not. In fact, it's quite likely that a lot of them will because it's cheaper on a per-minute basis after the access reform that we've seen this last decade. So it will be interesting to see how the market adapts and carriers purposely try to find routes that are SIP end to end, so that this STIR/SHAKEN thing can be as effective as possible, which to your point, that's, I think the tip of the iceberg as it relates to the customer experience.

Joel Balistreri:   Yeah. And Carlos, I'll add to that. You know, when we started with the Rural Call Completion and then the ITG and STIR/SHAKEN and how all those intertwine, initially it was like, " Well, here's just more regulations." But what I found interesting is, to your point about the difference, the TDM and the SIP, is that for me, it really opened up my eyes to what SIP can do versus TDM, and going over the top, kind of a next gen type network that will enable other over the top applications, rich call data and other things that will propel us into the future instead of being stuck and locked in with these traditional TDM networks.

Phil Voelker:     Right. And which is again... it's funny how, from a technology standpoint, you see some of those similarities, whether we're talking about voice or video or whatnot, is you don't always get to choose how the innovation comes to into existence. A lot of times it's like you said, all about regulation. So, at first you have to deal with regulation and then you start to think, "Hey, I can actually do something really cool with this stuff." And again, to Carlos's point, if you need the SIP end to end to realize all of the value of the products that you're creating around the STIR/SHAKEN standard, if it hits a TDM, then you lose that value. So it's going to be an interesting ride to see how that shakes out, pardon the pun.

Carlos Belloso:  Exactly. Since COVID hit, look at how we communicate has changed. How Many video conferences conference calls were we on before March of 2020?

Phil Voelker:     Right. Well, think about how long it's been since we've been in the same room.

Carlos Belloso:  Yeah, exactly.

Phil Voelker:     Right?

Carlos Belloso:  So with that, that's where the changes as it relates to communications and the value of having SIP. That all ties to unified communications and the ability to go from your laptop to your phone, to whatever you're using and not worry about it. That said, until we stop using telephone numbers, which probably won't happen in my lifetime, there's always going to be the underlying need for the telephony piece of our communications. So all that to say, when we... having STIR/SHAKEN depend on SIP end-to-end, there's so many other things too, as it relates to the future of communications. And we see that with high definition, for example, there are codecs out there that enable high definition voice, but again, because of how much TDM and SIP there has been, it just hasn't really... I don't think the adoption has been as quick as we would've liked. Especially compared to high definition TVs, those came out and it was easy to jump onboard, but, it's " What is it called, rich call data?"

                        Where in the future, instead of having your business's phone number and caller ID, it could be a logo. All of those things are tied to SIP platforms, basically, evolving technology platforms. And when it comes to Comcast, Comcast has definitely been a leader in terms of SIP peering since... much before, even the access reform 10 plus years ago, our predecessors here at Comcast had enough foresight to even back in the day, where there was cabs billing and that was a significant amount of revenue. Sometimes we gave that up to make sure that we could directly interconnect over SIP, try to make the exchange of traffic as bill and keep as possible, as long as we kept a peer balance, basically. And, you fast forward to now a decade later, and Comcast is fortunately very well positioned to actually enable more and more of that SIP end to end connectivity. That's becoming increasingly important.

Phil Voelker:     Right. You know, when you touched on the rich call data, that was one of the things that we were talking about the other day.Some of the advancements that the STIR/SHAKEN project, for lack of a better term, can bring to the market is just so fascinating. If you're a business, for instance, that does a ton of customer outreach think about it. I don't know about you guys, but when I get a phone call and if I don't recognize the number it's going to voicemail, but if I actually see that I know what business is trying to contact me, and that's a business that I want to interact with, I'm going to answer that call. So I'm really interested to see how the technology influences a company's ability to complete that call when they really need to talk to their customers.

Joel Balistreri:   Yeah. I agree with you, Phil. And also, we touched base on, on COVID and how that's changed on how we communicate, but in talking, not just with my colleagues and neighbors, people out in my own neighborhoods, now that are working from home, they did not realize how much their phone rings for nuisance calling throughout the day. And as I talk about some of these initiatives that we're doing in the industry, they're actually pretty excited about it because it's become a major problem.

Carlos Belloso:  Yeah, bingo. So it's not just focusing on enabling advanced communications, basically those platforms there's also... STIR/SHAKEN is really born from a need to protect our customers and our networks from a whole lot of... And there's a lot of gray, there's straight up fraudulent calls, and there's a lot of gray about what is an unwanted call or a nuisance, or what is it?

Phil Voelker:     Well, your point about COVID is so well taken because you think about before 2020, right? And you think about the amount of, for lack of a better term informational noise that we all experience on a daily basis. Those calls are really impactful. Those nuisance calls can derail so many things. How many of us have had a nuisance call come on when you're on a conference call or when you're on an important conversation or when you're just engaged in other information? So, absolutely agree there.

Carlos Belloso:  Or how many calls do we ignore, assuming that they're a nuisance and maybe there's the one call that that was important?

Phil Voelker:     Excellent point.

Carlos Belloso:  That has also happened a lot. And unfortunately, there's been a lot of people that have fallen victim to calls, the fraudsters use COVID or whatever reasons to try to intimidate people into giving them money. And we are doing everything we can to protect our subscribers and our wholesale customers also.

Phil Voelker:     Well, gentlemen, that was a great conversation. There's some interesting new developments on the horizon. And I guess in the interest of time, we'll wrap it up for today. Carlos, do you have any final thoughts for us?

Carlos Belloso:  Yeah. It's just really exciting to be part of a company that's just so innovative in so many different ways. And from a telephony standpoint, we are also ahead of the curve there and we are positioned with one of the best IP networks in the world to continue to stay ahead of the curve and have technology again, both for our subscribers and our wholesale customers.

Phil Voelker:     Fantastic. Joel, anything from you?

Joel Balistreri:   Yeah. I'll just tag on with Carlos and I am excited again, initially it was not too excited a couple of years ago about the STIR/SHAKEN initiative, but I'll tell you what it's turned into a breath of fresh air on all the possibilities that we have. We're not pigeonholed, we're thinking beyond, so that's really exciting. Things had gotten stale, I've been in the business for about 20 years. And when I got in, it was " Voice business is dying, voices business is dying!" Well, it hasn't and actually it had matured in some aspects, especially when we talk about the TDM, but the SIP enablement has really kind of gotten the next generation of telephony going, so I'm really excited.

Phil Voelker:     Well, that sounds like a great place to conclude for today. Thank you all for tuning in. If you'd like to talk with us further, please fill out the web form with some contact information and be sure to stay tuned. We've got a lot to share this year. So come and visit our website and look out for more information not just about STIR/SHAKEN, but media and technology in general and what the next decade has got in store. So again, on behalf of Comcast Technology Solutions, thanks very much.

Speaker 1:        Thanks for joining us for the CTS Connects Podcast. Visit comcasttechnologysolutions.com/cts-connects to explore this and other topics.