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July 17th, 2019

A Progress Report on SHAKEN/STIR: Insights from the FCC Robocall Summit

On July 11, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a SHAKEN/STIR Robocall Summit at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. FCC Chairman Pai convened the one-day, open-to-the-public summit as a snapshot of the telecom industry’s march toward the ubiquitous deployment of SHAKEN/STIR call authentication technology. This follows Pai’s direct letters to the heads of the US’s leading phone companies in November 2018, “urging” —but not yet requiring—them to deploy SHAKEN/STIR by the end of 2019.

Adoption of SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication standards is a vital piece of the FCC’s master plan to address the leading consumer complaint: robocalls. Once fully rolled out, caller ID authentication will prevent fraudsters from spoofing their identities, which is a very common form of robocall fraud. Pai has repeatedly threatened that if the rollout deadline is not meaningfully achieved, the FCC would mandate carriers to act. It seems the FCC has gotten the carriers’ attention.

As a leader and pioneer in call authentication, Neustar sent several members to attend the summit, along with voice service providers, vendors, consumer advocates, and industry groups. On the agenda were several panel discussions, as well as a number of addresses from the FCC and other industry leaders.

You can access the agenda and a full list of speakers and presentations on the FCC site, but here are some additional firsthand insights from the key sessions on the headway being made by carriers.

Progress Made by Major Voice Service Providers in Deploying STIR/SHAKEN

Chris Wendt, co-author of the SHAKEN/STIR protocol, led this panel of speakers from AT&T, Bandwidth, Comcast, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Vonage. The panel discussed deployment lessons and challenges and offered advice for operators that were early in the process, with similar key messages of “get started now,” “collaborate with others,” and “leverage industry testing.”

The ATIS Robocalling Testbed hosted by Neustar was noted as an excellent resource and a good first step to testing. The panel also provided direction on:

  • Certificate delegation: Raising the issue that enterprises and other providers want to get the ability for the highest-level (“A”) attestation and/or to sign calls, but the current protocols as defined do not allow for this.
  • International calls and gateway (“C”) attestation: Noting that STIR/SHAKEN is not yet an international initiative, while acknowledging that international and Canadian cross-border calls are important.

Challenges to Deployment Facing Smaller Voice Service Providers

This panel, moderated in part by FCC Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Eric Burger, hosted speakers from two regional operators and their network vendors. The operators (Wabash Communications and Golden West Telecommunications) noted concern for the cost to deploy SHAKEN/STIR, given their small subscriber bases. Cloud deployment was highlighted as a means to address cost concerns, and carrier consortia could provide efficiencies in scale.

They also highlighted that many regional operators still have TDM (time-division multiplexing) networks or do not have fully IP networks. In these cases, calls from these networks would not receive the full (“A”) attestation but rather gateway (“C”) attestation, and the operators are concerned that the lower attestation levels would not be answered.

A Measuring Stick on SHAKEN/STIR

When listening in on these panel sessions, one may get the idea that the industry has made dramatic progress. While this is true for the biggest carriers, the smaller ones are further behind—but they optimistically indicated they would meet the deadline.

With Neustar’s familiarity of operators not in attendance, however, the gap on progress is wide. We observe two camps:

  1. The largest operators all have deployed SHAKEN/STIR in at least a portion of their networks and are testing inter-carrier calls. All are looking to expand deployments and appear on track to make or beat the FCC’s end-of-year deadline.
  2. Smaller operators are also making progress, but it was clear that they are not as far along.

At the end of the day, Pai issued a somewhat positive statement on a productive event and some signs toward progress on implementation. He again reiterated that the FCC is ready to take quick regulatory action if needed.

The Neustar teams agree that the summit was highly informative as a check-in on STIR/SHAKEN and it’s clear that at least the biggest operators have made significant progress. It’s good to see where things are moving. For those who are lagging behind in implementing STIR/SHAKEN, a lot can be learned from the lessons on what’s been done so far.  

No matter which camp you sit or where you’re at in rolling out STIR/SHAKEN, here are some resources to help keep you up to date on the latest developments:

VIDEO: Meeting the Call for SHAKEN/STIR Call Authentication

WEBINAR: SHAKEN/STIR: The Pressure is on to Restore Consumer Trust in Calls

Q&A: SHAKEN/STIR: Restoring Trust in Calls

PRODUCT LITERATURE: Certified Caller (SHAKEN/STIR)

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