| March 15, 2021

CTS Connects Podcast: Why is this Number Calling me?

Industry leaders explain how a strong voice offering adds value and “stickiness” to business and residential providers alike. We also explore important new developments and innovations for communication providers to protect customer experiences from nuisance calls and sophisticated telecom fraud. Don’t miss this valuable discussion on the state of the industry.

You’ll hear from the following experts:

  • Allison Olien, GM, Communications & Technology Provider Solutions, Comcast Technology Solutions
  • Carlos Belloso, Senior Director, Product Management, Comcast Technology Solutions
  • Beth Choroser, VP, Federal Regulatory Affairs, Comcast Cable
  • Chris Wendt, Director, IP Communication Services, Comcast Cable

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.

Speaker 2:                    Hello, and welcome to another Comcast Technology Solutions, CTS Connects Podcast. Now, today's podcast is an audio presentation of an important conversation that took place during the CTS Connects Summit late in 2020. What we're talking about today is how customers are going to be better protected from nuisance calling, some new developments in the industry, and how things are changing at a fundamental level with STIR/SHAKEN, a crucial new development in voice telephony that brings the promise of better experiences for callers and also some new business opportunities as well.

                                    Allison Olien, who's the general manager of Technology and Communications Provider Solutions, is your host. And she's accompanied by Carlos Belloso senior director for Comcast Technology Solutions, Beth Choroser, vice president of regulatory affairs for Comcast and Chris Wendt director of IP communication services for Comcast. So let's jump in.

Allison Olien:                So let's kind of talk about what we're going to do today. I'm going to give you an overview of the state of the industry. Everyone's going to do that. We're going to talk about SHAKEN and STIR and all of its benefits, and then also talk about international voice fraud. So those are some of the topics. So I'm going to just kick it over to Beth let's level set before we dig in, what is the state of the voice industry and what is the FCC up to these days?

Beth Choroser:              In terms of the state of the voice industry, I think if you're talking about residential service, I think certainly everybody knows there's a lot of wireless substitution and that continues to grow. The last report from the Centers for Disease Control estimated that more than 60% of adults and 70% of children live in wireless-only households. And if you take the mid-20s to mid-30s set, that number is much higher. It goes above around 80%. But I think if you are talking about business voice services, I think there's still a lot of growth and innovation to come in the wireline segment of that business. And I think you may see mobility features that start to get tied in to that wireline business voice service.

                                    As far as what's being talked about at the FCC these days, of course, in the era of COVID, it's really all about broadband and closing the digital divide using broadband for education, for tele-health, and work from home. But that being said, the two biggest consumer issues at the FCC are still voice focused issues. The first is 9-1-1 emergency services. The big focus there is on getting more granular, automatic location information from callers, particularly in multiline business environments. Of course, there's Kari's Law, I think which everybody's heard of that requires the ability to dial 9-1-1 without a leading prefix or digit to get an outside line from a PBX.

                                    But the second really big consumer issue is robocall mitigation and implementation of call authentication so that callers know that the person calling them is a legitimate caller and calling from a telephone number that's legitimate. And the FCC has mandated that call authentication be implemented in Internet Protocol networks, specifically by June 30th, 2021. And that's of course, a subject that Chris Wendt is really the expert on. So I would defer to him on all things call authentication.

Allison Olien:                Great. Well, thank you, Beth. That was a great, great overview. And speaking of Chris, and I mentioned it earlier and you were alluding to it is, SHAKEN and STIR, or is it STIR/SHAKEN? I've never understood which way I'm supposed to say it. I do know it is not something I order in a bar, however. It's definitely not a drink. Can you tell us what it is and what value it brings to the industry?

Chris Wendt:                 Sure, yeah. It can go either way, actually. We advocated it to be said SHAKEN/STIR, but it turns out everybody likes STIR/SHAKEN. And it does come from acronyms, which in a lot of technology standards may have some influence by alcoholic beverages for whatever reason. But it does represent actually the two main standards groups associated with this work, which is IETF and which I have contributed some documents to, as well as the ATIS/SIP Forum, IP-NNI Task Force, which represents, is mostly US-based and I happen to be co-chair of the group of the IP-NNI working group as well. And we've really taken this issue on. So the IP-NNI side is represented by SHAKEN. And the ITF side is represented by STIR.

                                    And really, what it's all about, it's all about authenticating calls end-to-end. The current telephone network does not have a lot of security associated with it. It was sort of based on service provider trust from the very beginning. That's obviously become an issue as the capabilities and the ability technology has provided to make it easier to make telephone calls, has allowed folks maybe with not as well-intentioned services to come and take advantage of those things. So this effort is exclusively about putting trust back into the telephone network, authenticating the telephone number and the caller when they initiate a call and make sure that the consumer, the one at the receiving end of the call can trust what telephone caller is calling them.

Allison Olien:                Great. Great. So I bet there's some new things you're working on too. Can you kind of give us an idea of what's your hot topic lately?

Chris Wendt:                 Yeah, sure. So I've said it before, we're trying to sort of take something that's not too exciting, which is call authentication and make it a little more exciting. Turn lemons into lemonade. So we've incorporated a lot of interesting things around extending what you might get in terms of identifying the caller and that it could include other metadata, like logos and reason for calls, and other information that would help a consumer know, do I want to pick up the call or not? And that has a lot of value as well for our enterprises, even for Comcast itself. If our techs could identify, maybe even send a picture of themselves to identify to the consumer, "Hey, this is me. I'm going to be ringing your doorbell in five or 10 minutes," there's tons of value for that from a brand point of view, obviously about enterprises want to be well-represented in the calls that they make. So really exciting ways to extend use trust and extend that to opportunities that have real value to our customers.

Allison Olien:                Great. Well, Chris, that's great information. I kind of would like to switch it over to Carlos for a few moments. Carlos, you've been working on my team for a while and I remember when I first started dealing with this business, you talked to me about fraud and I said "Fraud? What are we doing with fraud?" And I know that you explained it very, very well. And so I'd kind of like you give an idea of what's happening with fraud? What's the latest activities that are really going on that you're focused on?

Carlos Belloso:              To Chris's point, SHAKEN/STIR is one of the many actions and activities to try to combat fraud. Because unfortunately, also referencing what Beth was talking about, the number one complaint is these calls and a lot of them are fraudulent in nature. I think the key thing that we are doing is thinking about how to approach it with a multi-pronged approach, basically. The biggest issue that we are tackling or the more specific one we were tackling when we started working together, Allison, was international revenue share. And that's not new per se, but again, to Chris's point, the technology today has really increased the amount of attacks that carriers see and customers see. So we have been able to develop a fraud mitigation service to really bring down international fraud flavor along with SHAKEN and STIR and other things that we're doing.

                                    But the beauty of doing this within Comcast Technology Solutions is that whatever we do for a customer who is a carrier, equally benefits Comcast as we protect our own subscribers and there's kind of a natural synergy between the carrier customers that we're serving and in our own direct subscribers. So we've been quite successful in launching this FMS product. And it is actually complimentary to the fraud mitigation systems that we all have in our networks. So those instances, those that get through those systems, this is basically another safety net that is comprised of a managed service that pretty much... Well, it's got global reach. So, there's a lot of things that all carriers are doing within their network, and this is kind of an extension of that never ending fight against the fraudsters.

Allison Olien:                It is a never ending fight. And I know as Beth said, initially there's a lot of things that are complaint-driven that go to the FCC, and a lot of things Chris was talking about. These are big challenges. Kind of feel like we're still trying to tackle them all at once. I'd like to hear some more of your thoughts. Maybe I'll go to Beth. What are your thoughts about how are we tackling all of these and what's our best way to keep things moving?

Beth Choroser:              Yeah. I think one of the things we've said with the robocalling issue all along, you'll hear it over and over again, is that there's no silver bullet here. And so this really has to be a multi-prong approach. And so we work on it looking at our customer, looking at traffic, to see what our customers are doing and trying to weed out that very small percentage that might be sending bad traffic onto our network. We do that. We are a leader in the STIR/SHAKEN space or SHAKEN/STIR, whichever your preference is. And one of the things there that I think is important to remember is that some of these solutions take industry collaboration. With SHAKEN/STIR, you're talking about an originating provider and a terminating provider, and everybody in between having to work together to bring the solutions to fruition. So I think it's really important that we collaborate as an industry. And we have been doing that. And we've also been working very closely with regulators like attorneys general and the FCC on these issues. So definitely I think the answer here is multi-pronged approach and part of that being the fraud mitigation tools as well.

Allison Olien:                Great, great. One other thing that I always think about in this space is, obviously there's a lot of ways to communicate these days. You used to have to call people and you had a landline and that's the only solution. But I still feel like the telephone number isn't going away. It is something still really important. Maybe Carlos, talk to us about why it's so important to make sure we're protecting the service going forward as phone lines are so important.

Carlos Belloso:              Well, I think you said it. You might've heard me say that a few times. But yeah, the telephone numbers are not going away. Even with the most advanced, unified communications platforms, you have to be able to go from one device to the other device. You have to have... We are far, far away from living in a world where you just call each other via emails or whatever that is. And so with that said, to have a true unified communications platform, you have to have the means to deal with telephony, and telephony can be complicated. So it's great that these technologies such as SHAKEN and STIR are being implemented and even regulated and mandated at this point, where carriers are going to have to force this extra layer of trust. And on top of that, we're continuing to work to develop things that are thinking about not just where we are, but where we're going.

                                    So that again, that telephone number, is always going to be there. We have to find a way to bring telephony into that much more advanced platform and communications enablement space. And to do that, we are very, very proactive, to Beth's point, not only from a regulatory perspective, but as we engage customers, developing technology. Folks like Chris who are really good at coming up with ideas to come up with not only how to fight fraud, but also how to enable some of the things that I was talking about with logos and caller ID's and that sort of thing.

Allison Olien:                Very interesting. Well, Chris, I'm going to put you on the spot here, because I haven't asked you hard question lately. But in terms of SHAKEN and STIR, STIR/SKAKEN, what's next? I mean, what do we expect in 2021? What other things are you developing? I can see your wheels are turning. I have to believe you've got some other good ideas there.

Chris Wendt:                 Well, actually to the last question and the telephone number continuing to be relevant in our lives for many reasons, one thing that is really interesting to talk about is video. And security is very important with video. Obviously, getting spam video calls is not a great situation to be in. So I think some of these things come together. I happened to be chair of the FCC NANC IVC Working Group, Interoperable Video Calls, and that address is another important segment of our customer base, which is the accessibility community. So, the impetus for video calling happens to be, or at least, the initiative to get video calls, sort of more part of the first-class citizen on a telephone network is to allow for folks that rely on sign language and other means of communications. So we're trying to be at the forefront of this, trying to sort of bring both video and STIR/SHAKEN technologies together to provide a framework for IP communications going forward in an interoperable way.

                                    And another maybe related thing to that, which is pretty interesting is, we've just enabled the ability for deaf folks or hard of hearing folks to be able to call our customer service. Another important FCC initiative that we've been really on the front of. So I think in terms of communications, that's just sort of the next step, but we're really building this framework for security and trust in our calls and hopefully sort of a resurgence of how we can communicate with each others along with all the other interesting things going on. But using the telephone number is sort of the core identity that you can communicate with, not only your friends and family, but all of the other things that are important in your life.

Allison Olien:                Very interesting, Chris. Well, before I close this out today, I thought I'd just go around and ask if you all have any final thoughts? I'll start with you, Beth. Anything else that maybe we didn't tackle yet that you want to make sure this audience hears?

Beth Choroser:              Yeah. I just think, look, as I said, I think there's a lot more innovation here. I think during the COVID error voice, we actually saw an increase again in wireline voice services. So really I think we have to stay nimble. I think that's the thing here. US networks have shown to be incredibly resilient with COVID. I think that's just excellent, but I think this all shows how nimble we need to be in terms of our services.

Allison Olien:                Great. Carlos, how about you? What else do you have to add?

Carlos Belloso:              To kind of piggy back on the surge from COVID, it's really kind of brought voice to the forefront again. And it's reminded a lot of us how important it is. We kind of take the service for granted. And it's really exciting to be part of a company that is so forward-thinking and willing to invest into its customers, ultimately, and making that the priority. And using or leveraging the knowledge from folks like Chris and also Beth, to really come up with plans to have that holistic, whatever that multi-prong is going to look like. Hey, we might be thinking about three prongs, but prongs keep coming out. So it's great to see the plans for machine learning capabilities that are going to be able to correlate many different sources of data for voice. And this is just technology that has been used for other parts of the tech world. And it's pretty cool to see it come to voice as effectively as it is right now. Because that's the only way in my opinion, that we're going to really be able to fight the fraudsters. They won't give up.

Allison Olien:                They won't give up. You're right. Well, that's wonderful. And Chris, any final thoughts from you?

Chris Wendt:                 I just wanted to say, I think from the very beginning when the FCC sort of, "Let's send a letter to service providers to solve this," we were sort of in the right time and the right place. And this whole exercise really has been a great way to show that from the very beginning we've been leaders in IP communications. In the industry, was the first to adopt the web. And now again, we have a great opportunity to show all of our technical leadership, all of our customer services leadership. And as we branch off, I think there's lots of opportunities to continue that trends. So it's been a great ride so far. I think there's a lot to do going forward. So it's a great opportunity for us.

Allison Olien:                Great, great. Well, what we've definitely learned today is that Comcast, we're on the forefront, we're definitely using all of the tools in our toolbox to make voice services as safe as possible, as user-friendly as possible and make sure we take care of our customers.

Speaker 2:                    And that's a wrap for this session. Now, if you want to talk with us, please fill out the web form with some contact information and definitely be sure to stay tuned. We've got a lot to share this year and we'll be adding a lot more to our podcast portfolio. So again, on behalf of Comcast Technology Solutions, thanks for tuning in.

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