Premium Numbers and Fraud

AurorA has been in the International Telecommunications space since 1994. Route guides for terminating traffic used to be simple; there was a rate per country to terminate a call to a landline telephone and maybe, maybe a second rate to terminate a call to the new cellphones. There were less than 300 lines on the spreadsheet.

Now, there are carriers whose A-to-Z rate sheet can offer thousands of pricing codes; still the landline rate with perhaps some other routes to major cities and a breakout now for each mobile carrier in the country but there are also an increased amount of expensive premium rates that are a potential risk for fraud.

In Canada and the U.S. in the 1990’s there was an explosion in the use of 900 or 976 numbers to offer premium services at a high per minute call rate that would be charged to the caller on their phone bill. Examples included weather reports, psychic hot lines and especially adult (phone sex) chat lines. The high per minute rates could lead to large phone bills very quickly and scammers would use all kinds of tactics to get people to call these numbers as they would get a split of the revenue from the phone company for each call. Consumers and businesses smartened up and blocked 900/976 number and eventually the Internet came and killed that particular market.

Overseas countries still have premium numbers and they live on through various names; Special Services, Non-Geographic Numbers, Universal Numbers, Telematic Services. etc. These numbers are premium in that usually they are at least ten times the rate of normal termination. They can have some legitimate applications; for example non-geographic numbers refers to a remote number, not tied to a physical destination such as if I wanted a Cyprus number to ring to my cellphone when I was elsewhere so my Cyprus customers could reach me.

They can be used for darker purposes though, through a scam called International Revenue Sharing Fraud (IRSF). In IRSF, the carrier in the far end country that owns the number ranges, leverage blocks of numbers they own by applying higher rates and assigning them to resellers outside of the country. Then hackers obtain these numbers, attack PBX’s and IP PBX’s and then machine generate calls. They then share the burst of revenue generated with the carrier in the country that owned these numbers providing a quick source of cash.

So how can you protect yourself ? It comes down to your own dial plan. You want to make sure that you don’t allow access to any premium numbers with such creative names like those listed above. Secondly , when choosing what international carrier to use to terminate your traffic with, beware of those whose own dial plans are riddled with such premium ranges, even if they seem to have low rates otherwise. It may be an arbitrage ambush. If they have many more premium pricing breakouts that do not exist on other carriers rate sheets you should avoid them. It doesn’t take many calls to the premium numbers to swamp any anticipated savings from using their “low” per-minute rates.

Choose to use a quality, reputable carrier for who you trust with your overseas calls.
Don’t be like those people in the photo when your bill comes in.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Also, thanks to Robert Benlolo of Tata whose expertise in this field provided me with guidance.

Satellite Phones

The most expensive destinations on any A-to-Z wholesale rate sheet are almost always satellite phone networks. Depending on the satellite network and its design, they can be used to provide voice, text and low bandwidth Internet access in specific regions or the entire Earth including Antarctica and the North Pole.

Satphones are ideal for certain applications; on board ships and airplanes, for remote resource industries such as mining, oil and gas exploration, natural disaster recovery scenarios and they are very popular on expeditions into wilderness areas where terrestrial cellular service is unavailable. Government agencies and militaries also find them quite useful.

Traditional satellite networks are based on satellites in geostationary orbit, which are meant to remain in a fixed position in the sky relative to an observer on Earth. Geostationary satellites are 35,786 km above sea level so there is a noticeable delay when talking over them as the signal has to go up to the satellite and then back down. Examples would include Inmarsat and Thuraya.

There are also satellite networks that rely on a constellation of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to provide worldwide coverage including the polar regions. The LEO satellites orbit the earth at altitudes of only 640 to 1120 km so their delay is negligible and goes unnoticed during a call. Examples would include Globalstar and Iridium.

These networks show up on wholesale A-to-Z rate sheets because satellite phone are issued with their own special country codes.

Inmarsat has been issued with codes +870 designated SNAC for Single Network Access Code. Prior to 2008 there were separate codes for geographic regions such as the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean East and West). Inmarsat was originally created to provide a communications network for the maritime community. Inmarsat now has a variety of services beyond the strictly maritime such as Aeronautical (for aircraft obviously), BGAN (IP based Broadband Global Area Network), M2M for machine to machine applications such as IoT. Other services such as B, M and Mini-M were closed Jan 2017.

LEO systems that provide global coverage are issued virtual country code +881. Iridium satphones have country codes +881 6 and +881 7. Globalstar is allocated +881 8 and +881 9. Calls to both networks can be very expensive, thus it is possible to call them with charges reversed (i.e. paid by the satphone customer) by first dialling a number in the USA. That way the receiver pays the standard rate for satellite to landline calls , but the caller only pays for the domestic USA call.

Smaller regional satellite phone networks are allocated numbers in the +882 code range designated for “international networks”.

Finally, the voice codecs used in satphones have very aggressive voice compression due to the limited bandwidth. The sound quality will exhibit a clipping effect. Satphones use far less bandwidth than a 3G cellphone or a G.729 IP call. Thus it is even more imperative to access these numbers with as high quality a connection as possible to maximize the intelligibility of the speech.

If your business or commercial customers require operating in remote regions of the globe, away from cellular networks (which would include most of Canada !) then have them consider satphones and then route their traffic via AurorA’s premium connections for maximum quality.

Six Sigma Telecom (or why Quality is paramount over cost)

Over the holidays I was able to catch up on some reading. The book I finished was “Eccentric Orbits – The Iridium Story” by John Bloom. In a future post I plan to give a short review of this book and a few other books on telecom that I have recently enjoyed.

One of the items that struck me in the book was the description of the Six Sigma management philosophy pioneered by Motorola (the builder of the Iridium constellation of satellites) in the 1980’s that was famously adopted by Jack Welch and General Electric in the 1990’s. The focus on Six Sigma is on eliminating defects and reducing variability. It takes its name from statistics, sigma being the term for a standard deviation from a normal distribution.

In layman’s terms Six Sigma can be summed up as “…if you build things that don’t break, you don’t have any costs of fixing them later…”.

This is the central philosophy we have at AurorA and it resonated strongly with me. In our view the concept of Least Cost Routing (LCR) for international voice traffic is outdated, ultimately more expensive and leads to substandard business outcomes. Choosing the highest quality termination, i.e. a direct route that passes true Calling Line ID (CLID), actually leads to better value and over a longer period of time, higher revenue and lower overall total costs.

Direct costs are lower if you choose premium quality over a cheaper but lower quality route. The LCR way will lead to call failures and trouble tickets. Customers will complain.The cost of chasing trouble tickets can be substantial as well as the re-routing necessary until the faulty route is fixed. Customer service staff to take the calls and service technician costs will increase. These costs can quickly eat up the lower rate per minute of the cheap route.

Secondly, only a small percentage of customers that experience poor quality or call failures will actually complain and take the time to put in trouble tickets. The silent majority will simply stop using your service and use an alternative. They will, however, complain internally to their management team about the poor experience.

Top-line revenue will then also decline over time, initially from customers not using your sub-quality voice service, but further once your organization develops a reputation for poor quality. The maxim “How you do one thing is how you do everything” describes that phenomenon. Customers will not renew, or would look more favourably on competitors offerings. One poor niche allows a competitor an advantage and an avenue to exploit.

This is especially true if your customers are enterprise or business customers. Commercial customers demand excellent quality from your entire service offering. International voice termination may be only a small fraction of your portfolio but if they cannot rely on the calls completing each time, every time with superb “pin drop” audio quality than it would reflect poorly on the rest of your service offering.

This is why at AurorA we insist upon serving you with the highest quality, premium international voice termination. The Six Sigma philosophy highlights that the penny pinching of using a LCR is not worth it, and over the long run higher revenues and lower costs accrue from providing superior quality service to your customers.

Remain Vigilant over the Holidays

It is an unfortunate fact that the fraudsters of the world like to plan their attacks on holidays when network supervision may not be at its highest.

Please remember to be vigilant this Holiday season and guard access to your switches.

AurorA has to deliver any traffic that is sent to it , so you are responsible for any unauthorized access to your network. AurorA will pass on any alerts that it gets of suspicious traffic patterns. AurorA has also implemented automatic blocking of B numbers once we detect a suspicious fraudulent traffic pattern in an attempt to minimize losses. In the New Year I will highlight on this blog other steps that we have taken such as the weekly reports of suspicous call attempts, revamped dial plan and intensified focus on high quality terminating routes.

Have a safe and happy Holiday season, and to those celebrating, Merry Christmas !

Timo Vainionpaa

Start up week – Oct 5 to 10

Today marks the start of Start-up week in Ireland. Ireland has done an impressive job of attracting established Silicon Valley companies to establish their European headquarters in the Emerald Isle. They have now set their sights on establishing themselves as an innovation hub by 2020.

I flew into Dublin on Saturday to join my partner, Ben Maguire for Start-Up week. The week-end was for adjusting for jet lag, getting caught up, watching some football and WorldCup rugby. Here is Ben in front of the local Dundalk Enterprise Ireland office where we have started talks

.IMG_0924 IMG_0926

Sunday was a bright, warm sunny day and we toured around Dundalk, home of the FAI champion Lilywhites (who will be playing in the FAI Cup final again this year against Cork City !) and we finished up at the Spirit Store for some Guiness and traditional Irish music.

spirit store

It was wonderful and reminded me of the céilidh parties in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland back in Canada. All ages we are at the pub, players joined in the fun, adding their guitars, flutes, fiddles and accordians to the mix. The jovial atmosphere had us making new friends and reconnecting with old, including the former trombone player of the Benny Maguire All-Stars orchestra !

Today we are off to Dublin as we are booked in the Silcon Stroll. Looking forward to meeting some Irish start-ups and seeing how the entrepreneurial culture here compares and contrasts with Waterloo and the Bay Area. Follow us along on twitter @TimoVainionpaa

The Pros and Cons of Doing Business in Ireland

put-em-up

This was published on the IrishCentral website on April 16, 2015

Stephen Mullan, vice president of emerging business at the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) Ireland, outlined some of the advantages that Ireland offers to businesses.

“Ireland is an ideal entry point for businesses seeking access to the European Union and its population of more than 300 million people. Businesses with operations in Ireland benefit from barrier-free access to the EU’s 28 member countries and its four freedoms – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people,” Mullan said.

More than 1,000 multinational companies have chosen Ireland as their strategic European base. The Emerald Isle has one of the world’s lowest nominal corporate tax rates, 12.5 percent for active businesses.

Other advantages are its predominately young workforce, with a median population age of 35 – the lowest in the EU – and a higher percentage of post-secondary graduates than the U.S. or the U.K.

However, Mullan cautioned that there must be “a legitimate business reason” for wanting to locate in Ireland.

“The country’s low corporate tax rate should be among the considerations–but cannot be the sole reason,” he said. 
Business seeking to be considered for financial incentives must satisfy the IDA that the assistance is necessary to ensure the establishment or development of the operation and that it is both commercially viable and will provide new employment.

Read the full article here at
http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Pros-and-Cons-of-Doing-Business-in-Ireland.html

Some Interesting telephone trivia

Did you know ?

1496924_625813184134029_1889205362_n

– The origin of the phrase ‘to put someone on hold’ was Alexander Graham Bell handing over his telephone instrument to his partner Mr Watson and saying, “here, hold this”.

– The very first phone call was “Watson come here, I want you!”
It was made on March 10 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts, between Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Thomas A. Watson.

– As a tribute to Alexander Graham Bell when he died in 1922, all the telephones stopped ringing for one full minute.
On the day of Bell’s funeral, the USA and Canada paid tribute to him by closing down their telephone systems for a minute’s silence, affecting over 14 million telephones.

– Telephone operators used to be young men. But they were prone to prank calling and chatting up female callers… “In the first exchanges, boys were generally engaged as operators, but due to their inquisitive spirits, mischievous behaviour etc they did not give their best attention and girls began to replace boys in this role..”

– The automatic switchboard was inspired by undertaker rivalry. Almon Strowger was an undertaker in Kansas City, USA, who suspected that he was losing business to a rival. The rival’s wife worked as a telephone switchboard and he thought she was diverting calls to her husband. One morning his suspicions were founded as he read in the newspaper that a close friend had passed away and been buried by this rival. This was Almon’s incentive to replace the human operators (who were not universally loved) with an automatic switchboard.

“I am often told that the telephone girls will be angry to me for robbing them of their occupations. In reply, I would say that all things will adjust themselves to the new order of change. … The telephone girls replaced the messenger boy as this machine now displaces the telephone girls. Improvement will continue to the end of time, strike where they may.”

The new system was described as “girl-less, cuss-less and wait-less”.

– One of the first answering machines was popular with Jews. Valdemar Poulsen, the Danish telephone engineer and inventor, patented what he called a ‘telegraphone’ in 1898. The telegraphone was the first practical apparatus for magnetic sound recording and reproduction, and enabled telephone conversations to be recorded. This was followed by Willy Müller who invented the automatic answering machine in 1935. It was a three-foot-tall machine popular with Orthodox Jews who were forbidden to answer the phone on the Sabbath.

Source – EPH

Pakistan shuts down illegal routes

67d72dfe-187e-11e3-8efb-22000aa5108a-large

Often here in Canada, when searching for options to call overseas we can be tempted by cheap calling rates that appear too good to be true. At Amitel, we use premium international termination services, high quality terminating with calling line ID at the far end.

The attached link, from the Express Tribune, is to a recent story on how the Pakistan authorities have shut down 26 illegal gateway exchanges that were bypassing the system. Some of our “cheap price” competitors will now find they cant reach Pakistan.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/675710/cyber-crime-fia-bust-26-illegal-gateway-exchanges-six-arrested/

809 Area code scam

Time to remind Amitel customers about a classic scam to be aware of.
Beware of voicemail messages or texts from numbers that you do not know, especially from area codes like 809, 284, 649 or 876.

They get you to call by telling you that it is information about a family member who has been ill or to tell you someone has been arrested, died, or to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc.. You assume the number is in Canada or the U.S. because of the typical three digit area code; however you are actually connected to a phone number in the Caribbean (i.e. 809 is the Dominican Republic). When you return the call you’ll also get a long recorded message. The point is, they will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges.

Amitel recommends the following tips to help avoid the scam:

* Return calls to familiar numbers only

* Check unknown area codes or country codes. Amitel will be adding a searchable list of area codes and country codes to our website soon to assist you at www.amitel.com

* Always carefully read your phone bill

For further information and for a history of this scam you can check out Snopes at
http://www.snopes.com/fraud/telephone/809.asp

Common Carrier

fiber-optic-cable-stock
Since graduating from Engineering at the U of Waterloo, I have been in telecom all of my adult life. I was taught that telecom companies are “common carriers” and are subject to certain rules and regulations that other industries are not.

Simply put, in common law countries like Canada, industries like railways, airlines, pipelines and telecom firms that offer their services to the general public under a licence or authority provided by a regulatory body are common carriers. One of the biggest obligations of a common carrier is non-discrimination. A common carrier cannot discriminate, i.e. refuse the service to some members of the public and not others, or give prejudicial treatment to a favoured few.

Yet, I notice that in this day and age , telecom companies are discriminating, openly and blatantly and violating the principles of common carriage.

One example would be when a telecom company throttles your Internet service, slowing down bit torrent packets or videogame packets. Or when the companies that own the telecom facilities also own the content that rides on them (so called vertical integration). If they hoard that content and do not allow other carriers access to it at reasonable rates then it violates the principles of common carriage.

I would happily pay content providers directly for some content that appeals to me; say HBO or NBA basketball with their League Pass. Unfortunately, that is not allowed; I cant watch the Toronto Raptors on my computer by paying the league directly because the rights holder in Canada insists it be blacked out. They try and force me to purchase their offerings which I have no interest in.

When did we allow this to happen and what should we do about it ?