SHAKEN/STIR – Solution, or problem?

Recently, there’s been quite a stir about SHAKEN/STIR, the FCC’s proposed solution to the “caller ID spoofing” problem. The basic premise is that calls will be cryptographically signed by the originating carrier, certifying the caller ID is authentic. Somehow, this is supposed to stop telemarketers, robo-callers, scams, and other undesired telephone calls. Depending on who you talk to, this proposed solution has been met with both praise and criticism.

As it stands now, I’m one of the ones who has met it with criticism, for several reasons:

Reason #1: It won’t stop junk calls.

As much as we wish it were true, there is no “Holy Grail” to stopping junk calls. Implementing SHAKEN/STIR will not stop junk calls in and of itself.

What it may do, if implemented correctly (i.e. carriers verify that calls originating from customers have caller ID set to numbers that customer actually owns), is prevent junk calls coming from numbers that don’t belong to the junk caller. The entity placing the calls will actually have to “own” the number you see on caller ID. This does not necessarily mean you can call them back and chew them out for bothering you – it’s completely possible for them to route that number to a busy signal, error recording, etc.

It may also prevent such entities from spoofing your phone number, placing a bunch of calls, and you receiving the angry return calls.

But, it won’t stop junk calls.

Reason #2: It will break existing functionality.

While “caller ID spoofing” may sound like a bad thing, it actually has legitimate use cases that most of us have probably relied on, but never realized.

Ever had “Call Forwarding” service on your home phone, and forwarded it to your cell phone while you were on vacation? If so, anyone calling your home phone would reach your home phone company, who would then place an outbound call to your cell phone, and connect the two. When your cell phone rang, what number did you see? Chances are, you saw the number of the original caller – not your home phone number. This is because your home phone company “spoofed” the original caller’s number, allowing you to see who the actual caller was. SHAKEN/STIR stands to break this functionality.

While forwarding your home phone may seem like a thing from the past, many businesses still rely on very similar functionality. When nobody answers at the office, the system will send calls to one or more cell phones – showing the original caller’s number as caller ID.

Under SHAKEN/STIR, you would lose this functionality.

Reason #2.5: It breaks redundant and least-cost routing.

With Voice-over-IP systems (which are only becoming more ubiquitous each day), it is possible to send outbound calls via different “routes.” These routes can be via different carriers.

For example: My home phone is with phone company A. All of my inbound calls come through phone Company A. Most of my outbound calls go out via Company A. However, Company A charges exorbitant rates to international destinations, so I have setup service with Company B who provides me with cheaper international rates. I do not have any inbound service (nor a phone number) with Company B. Company B is slightly more expensive than Company A on domestic calls, except calls to Alaska and Hawaii, which are cheaper through Company B. Therefore, all my domestic calls go through Company A, except for calls to Alaska and Hawaii, which go to Company B. If Company A is down, all domestic calls go through Company B at the slightly higher rate.

This type of configuration works wonderfully for saving money, and for redundancy on outbound calls (inbound redundancy isn’t possible in the current state of technology), but how will it work with SHAKEN/STIR? If your phone number is with Company A, you’ll have to send all of your calls (at least domestically) with Company A. If Company A goes offline, you don’t place calls.

The conclusion…

While there is definitely a problem with junk calls, I’m not sure SHAKEN/STIR is going to be the solution. It’s not going to solve the problem, and it has the potential to create many more.