Who is calling and why? T-Mobile enhances caller ID in proof-of-concept

Aiming to boost customer confidence in picking up phone calls from unknown numbers, T-Mobile and partners completed a wireless call that used authenticated caller ID and showed details like company branding to provide more information about who was calling and why.

The proof-of-concept, which the partners believe to be a first, was completed with First Orion, CTIA, Everbridge, iconectiv, NetNumber, Numeracle, and Twilio.

T-Mobile used Rich Call Data (RCD) technology in combination with authenticated caller ID based on the STIR/SHAKEN framework and protocol.

RELATED: FCC deadline for STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication nears

When a phone number popped up, it also displayed the T-Mobile logo, as well as details including a caller name (in this case “Team of Experts”) and reason (customer service calling) to better inform consumers so they can decide whether to pick up or not.

TMobile enhanced caller ID proof of concept
Enhanced caller info relied on an industry-backed centralized registry rather than a third-party database.

“The ability to deliver RCD to mobile devices is a key tool in the battle against scammers as it increases consumer trust in knowing who is calling them and why,” said T-Mobile CTO Abdul Saad, in a statement. “This proof-of-concept shows that by working together as an industry we can make sure that legal, critical, and wanted calls are delivered with a high level of consumer confidence.”

Illegal, spam and nuisance robocalls are a well-known issue to consumers in the U.S. as trust in answering calls from unknown phone numbers has degraded. It’s something lawmakers, regulators and the wireless industry have been working to address.

T-Mobile cited data from Pew Research Center that found nearly 80% of U.S. adults generally don’t pick up the phone if they don’t know the number. According to YouMail Robocall Index, an estimated 45.86 billion robocalls were placed in 2020 and around 26.4 billion so far in 2021. However, not all robocalls are from scammers as legitimate businesses like banks, doctors, pharmacies and others try to reach consumers. In June 2021, YouMail said scammers accounted for around 39% of an estimated 4.4 billion robocalls that month, while the rest came from alerts and reminders (24%), payment reminders (13%), and telemarketing (24%).

RELATED: Verizon starts verifying calls with other carriers using STIR/SHAKEN

A key aspect of T-Mobile’s proof-of-concept is that it used RCD, which is part of the STIR/SHAKEN framework. STIR/SHAKEN helps voice providers digitally verify the authenticity of numbers originating and traveling across networks – to ensure that a call is indeed coming from the number that shows up on the caller ID – with the aim of preventing spoofed calls before they reach customers.  

The end of June marked the FCC deadline for U.S. voice providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN technology in their IP networks (more on what that means for the industry here). T-Mobile is authenticating 100% of calls that come from the carrier’s network and has fully completed its industry-wide STIR/SHAKEN deployment. T-Mobile said it verifies 257 million calls each day.

While STIR/SHAKEN is a significant tool to help stop scammers, enhanced caller ID or branded calling if you will, is somewhat of a next step up in the effort to restore trust in voice calls. 

RELATED: FCC requires carriers to deploy STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication

Rich call data (RCD) like that used in T-Mobile’s proof-of-concept is provided directly from the organization calling (or originating provider) and relies on the industry-backed centralized registry (Registered Caller), rather than a third-party database on the receiving end of the call. Since RCD builds on and requires STIR/SHAKEN, T-Mobile said the information can’t be displayed unless it’s first been properly verified by the network.

Speaking to FierceWireless in March, iconectiv CTO Chris Drake noted the industry was in the middle of phase two for STIR/SHAKEN, which included aspects that T-Mobile touted this week, such as branded calling. However, when information such as company’s logo is attached to the call potentially bringing a greater level of trust from the consumer, it means there needs to be an even higher level of certainty by the provider, he noted.

“Once [consumers] can tell who it is and it’s authentic, and SHAKEN ensures it can’t be falsified, then people will start to answer the phones because they know when they’re getting the calls they want,” Drake said at the time. Iconectiv was one of T-Mobile’s partners in the recent call, which used technology from First Orion.

RELATED: Wireless industry readies as STIR/SHAKEN deadline approaches

Since this was a PoC, it was important to show enhanced caller ID was possible, but according to a T-Mobile spokesperson there’s no timeline yet as to when it might get introduced commercially.

“Imagine a future where all phone calls will be delivered with RCD providing complete transparency and protection in every call for every consumer, enhancing the way businesses connect with their customers,” said Jeff Stalnaker, president and founder of First Orion, in a statement. “Working with T-Mobile and other industry leaders to deliver this first-ever mobile call with RCD and authenticated Caller ID is an important step in making Enhanced Caller Identity a reality.”