As carriers move to implement a new framework to provide more information to end users on incoming calls, they are learning more about both how to deploy the STIR/SHAKEN framework as well as how to work with other operators to ensure cross-network traffic functions the same way as traffic within one operator’s network.
At the Federal Communications Commission’s event focusing on efforts to fight robocalls, representatives of a number of major service providers discussed their ongoing efforts to test and implement the STIR/SHAKEN framework for providing consumers with verification and notification about the origination of incoming calls.
ATIS established a testbed hosted by Neustar Trust Labs for STIR/SHAKEN several years ago, to help with implementation, and that has been a helpful resource, according to Kathleen Foster, core networks engineering director at T-Mobile US.
“One of the biggest challenges early on was, we didn’t really have meany people to test with,” said Foster. She said that the ATIS testbed enabled T-Mobile US to learn some of the basic functionality of STIR/SHAKEN, and it provided negative test cases so that they could see how things worked in the real world. She advised that companies which are just getting started with STIR/SHAKEN to take advantage of the Trust Lab.
“You can learn an awful lot with that,” she said. Foster added that “it’s a good idea to start with validation on your own network … before you start working in [interoperability]” and recommended paying attention to the standards bodies’ work as well as potential test partners.
“We’re ready to test with anybody who’s capable and willing to help,” she said.
Linda Vandeloop, AVP of external Affairs/regulatory at AT&T and the chair of the Secure Telephone Identity Governance Authority Board, said that the testing capability “was invaluable.”
“We don’t build our network to send bad traffic,” she said. Neustar “was able to develop a process where they could send us bad calls, and so we could test our network to see what happens and make sure it works. And then the next step would be the lab testing with other service providers. … By going through the steps, I think the process really went smoothly,” she said. “We found a couple of things because we might implement the standards slightly differently, and we’ve been able to work through those.”
“Do as much testing as possible,” she added. “It’s very effective, and then you’ll be ready to effectively exchange traffic when you’re going live.”
Jeff Haltom, senior manager at Verizon Headquarters Planning, said that while standards are important, it was also important for Verizon to get past standards-speak as it set expectations for its testing with partners.
“The most successful thing we had through our testing process was taking the standard and moving it up a level and talking like real humans talk,” Haltom said. “As we set the expectation for our testing, it was really simple wording that just [said], in the first phases, we’re going to prove we don’t break each other’s network. In the next phase, we’re going to make sure that we expect that calls should be signed and that we’re moving on a path toward requiring it to be through our large interconnections, and those sort of rules for the road of operating that set some boundaries for what we would do through the testing.
“It allowed us to focus on the things that are most important,” he added. “So if you’re wondering what to do to start, start. That’s the best advice I can give you.”
He also recommended focusing on attestation — which is the formal term for the verification of a call, which has a number of levels — for the types “that are most impactful” rather than putting the lowest level on everything and calling it good. He said Verizon is being “very mindful and thoughtful” about what it signs.
Scott Mullen, CTO of wholesale network operator Bandwidth, recommended rolling out in a “slow and methodical way, don’t start immediately blocking calls or labeling calls. Do some analytics, exchange information among your partners. I think that’s critical.”
He added that fostering IP connectivity between carriers is also important, because STIR/SHAKEN operates in an IP environment.
Vandeloop said that combatting robocalls and illegal spoofing is one issue where people and companies can come together — and she called that a key learning of the company’s experience in implementing STIR/SHAKEN so far.
“Once we started working together and coming together, we started really coming up with things that are going to make an impact — that are making an impact right now,” Vandeloop said, adding that her advise to other companies is: “Work with us, work with each other, make sure that we do this as a whole industry.”
“One of the things that is important is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Alex Eatedali, director of engineering for core network and voice at Vonage. “A lot of partners … have been working on this for years, and a lot of good lessons to be learned. With collaboration, I think you can overcome a lot of challenges early on — but start now. Because it’s getting too late, if you haven’t.”