PHOENIX—Robocall spammers are leveraging small provider networks, particularly Voice over IP (VoIP) service providers, to originate the calls that no one wants, according to a new report from Transaction Network Services. But in a keynote at the Competitive Carriers Association, TNS CEO Mike Keegan discussed how the problem of robocalls can be turned into an opportunity for network operators.
TNS put out its latest robocall report this week, the same day that Keegan addressed CCA. The report found that despite a brief drop in the number of unwanted calls during Covid-19 lockdowns in early 2020, robocalling rebounded and was up 6% to 37.9 billion calls int he first half of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. The report also observed that as the national Tier 1 carriers have implemented the call authentication and signing framework known as STIR/SHAKEN, making it harder for spam and scam calls to get through, robocalling outfits have moved on to easier targets: Smaller network providers. While the top six US carriers account for three-quarters of all inter-carrier traffic, TNS’ report found, 95% of high-risk calls originate from non-Tier-1 service providers. Because STIR/SHAKEN can only be implemented in the IP portion of networks, it does have some limitations, particularly for legacy networks; an analytics-based approach can be implemented to work around this.
TNS also reported that customers are complaining about robocalls more frequently: The Federal Trade Commission had a 36% increase in robocall-related complaints received in the first half of this year compared to the same time last year, while complaints to the Federal Communications Commission’s Do Not Call list were up 55%. The pandemic also brought the urgency of getting people to answer their phones into sharper focus, because public health-oriented calls to contact trace or offer the Covid-19 vaccines have been going unanswered.
As many as eight in 10 Americans don’t answer the phone if a call is coming from an unknown number, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2020, although some demographic groups are more likely to pick up and the specific reasons why vary.
So how do you rebuild people’s trust in voice calls? One way that carriers like T-Mobile US are exploring, and that TNS is providing, is not only playing defense with STIR/SHAKEN, but also to proactively offer businesses branded calling that gives end users a visual confirmation of what company is calling them, so they are more likely to answer. Based on a third-party survey, Keegan told CCA, the CCA audience, 63% customers say they would answer a call branded with the information of a company they recognize.
“If you deliver a logo of a brand that they recognize, they’ll pick up the phone,” Keegan said.
He added that in the terms of the size of the market opportunity, TNS’ survey found that 90% of enterprises said they were willing to pay for branded calling — and TNS is already rolling out the service with several carriers.
Even if it’s only 10 or 15 cents per call, he added, something like branded calling for big-box stores’ appliance or service delivery could add up to millions of calls per year, while also saving enterprises money in avoiding multiple truck rolls when consumers miss a call notifying them of a delivery window because they don’t answer an unknown number.
Robocalls have called a commercial issue for businesses, Keegan said, and they are willing to pay to overcome it. And carriers, he added, are the ones who will enable this service and ought to be paid for it.