Least Corrupt Routing

“Awake” by Vickie Vainionpaa, https://vickievainionpaa.com/

LCR is no longer about Least Cost. Least Corrupt Routing provides better long term value.

That was the theme of the presentaion that I made on Sept 16, 2020 at the Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) Americas Online Conference.

The video is available for your viewing pleasure at https://vimeo.com/462621895

RAG Americas Online: Sep 15-16

Coronavirus may have prevented RAG’s North American conference from being held at the offices of CenturyLink in Denver CO, but it will not stop us from running the biggest conference for telecoms risk professionals. Over 2,000 people from 93 countries watched RAG London Online in May (see my posts here and here) and we intend to do even better with our online North American conference, which will stream live on September 15-16, 2020.

RAG was kind enough to ask me to be a speaker this go around. I will be exploring how telecom carriers can meet multiple goals such as increase revenues, reduce costs and improve their customer’s satisfaction via one action; their LCR. The new LCR is Least Corrupt Routing and it provides better long term value and business outcomes than traditional Least Cost Routing by prioritizing Quality over simple cost per minute.

Most of the RAG members come from large global carriers like Vodafone, MTN, Deutsche Telekom, etc so AurorA will provide a different perspective; one from a smaller, niche, nimble pure international carrier that has been serving its wholesale customers in Canada, the United States and overseas since 1994

Come watch and ask questions live from 8am to 5pm Eastern time each day; click here to save the event to your calendar. You can watch the entire conference at the RAG webpage, without needing to register in advance.

RAG London Online: May 13-14, 2020

The compères Eric, Rachel and Tony

Today was the first day of the Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) London conference. Due to the ongoing global pandemic it was turned into a virtual online conference. The sessions began at 7:30 AM London time (2:30 AM in Waterloo, eek !) but I listened to the whole event from start to finish.

The conference covered revenue assurance, fraud management, cybersecurity, billing accuracy, enterprise risk management, margin optimization, cost management and other kinds of business assurance.

Revenue Assurance is a broad topic that can cover many issues in a telecom business. Many of the presentations highlighted the growth and evolution of revenue assurance from a simple audit type function to informal analytics to entire ecosystem tracking. RA professionals can not only increase the top line by preventing revenue leakage but also improve bottom line profits and cash flows, all without dampening demand. In fact
it can be said that business assurance is the only function that assures profit as it has the data to measure costs on a customer basis.

The near future for RA would be to embrace emerging technology such as Machine Learning and other for automating more and more processes. The skills of RA professionals in telecom will also find their way into other industries such as Finance, Utilities , Consumer and Tech.

There were discussions on the blockchain for telecom as well as specifically for battling Wangiri one-ring fraud. Other fraud management schemes such as STIR/SHAKEN, A&B # Handshake, and Seismic were discussed.

One of my favourite lines I heard today, reminded me of my sales philosophy with my own customers. “Trust is the biggest thing; it is about the relationship, it is not a transaction”. It was said in a discussion of RA working with internal partners such as network but it really did remind me of why I love my business and serving my customers.

Those are just some of the over-arching themes from over ten hours of superb content. If you missed it and are interested , some of the videos will be posted on the RAG website here.

Better yet, get yourself out of bed at 2:30 AM tomorrow and catch Day 2 of the conference live. That way you can participate in the Q & A sessions ! I am looking forward to it myself.

2020 Redux

Photo Credit ; Carmi Levy, @carmilevy more at http://writteninc.blogspot.com/

Back in early January, I wrote a post on my 2020 vision where I focused on a few topics I thought would be of importance in the New Year. My goal was to avoid the dreaded Top 10 list of predictions by providing more substance.

Back then we were all quite innocent and unprepared to imagine a global pandemic and what our collective human response to it would do to our lives. So I thought I would revisit the trends I identified to see how well they held up over four short months. Then try to look forward to what the rest of this year might bring, especially as we begin to restart the economy as we inevitably come out of self-isolation and lockdowns.

Telecom Fraud
Well, did I ever nail THAT one on the head. As we have been forced to self-isolate and work from home, the hackers, cheats and swindlers have been out in full force. Traffic on telecom networks both here in Canada and globally have skyrocketed but there has also been more and more attacks on telecoms. Traditional fraud schemes such as Wangiri fraud and the related International Revenue Share Fraud (IRSF) are up dramatically. This has been a major point of emphasis for AurorA since fraud mitigation is a key part of the added value of providing premium voice termination. The AI based fraud tools that we use have saved tens of thousands of dollars of catastrophic losses for wholesale customers and their retail and commercial customers. This trend shows no sign of abating and will continue throughout the rest of the year.

The Decline of Voice
I missed this one badly. My basic premise, supported by the traffic numbers, was that voice traffic was in a long term secular decline. Who would have forecast that during a pandemic, the killer application would turn out to be voice ? During their isolation, people wanted to reach out and talk to friends, family and loved ones. Voice traffic has skyrocketed, especially to international destinations.

Given that apps such as WhatsApp and Skype are available for free calls, it is interesting that people still rely on the ubiquitous telephone and voice calling. Everyone has a phone, and calling “just works” for everyone. My own feeling is that people prefer the high quality connection that comes from a premium quality phone call. Text (and email) doesnt cut it; it is too cold and lacks nuance.

Recession is coming
Wish I didnt get this right. Recession has come on a whole lot faster than anyone anticipated. The pandemic hit to our economy is huge, the unemployment levels are unprecedented in their speed and depth. The governments have had to spend huge sums to provide liquidity and financially prop up people, families and businesses while we dealt with the pandemic. This recession will be deep, and the length of it is unknown. There is far to much complexity to try and predict how and when we will come out of this recession.

Moving Forward
So, whats next ? What should we be doing as telecom service providers over the next few months when the lockdowns slowly get lifted. How can we prepare for what’s next ? Some of us will be looking simply to survive, others to maintain and still some will be better positioned to grow. I think three potential things to consider are a) controlling costs b) solidifying existing revenues c) looking to add top-line revenue.

For cost control now is the time to tighten the screws on your organization from top to bottom. Examine all costs, especially all S,G & A line items to see where savings can be had. Billing systems, payment services, any form of overhead costs should all be examined and cost savings sought wherever possible. Now is the time to tackle those cost savings projects that we were too busy for before and make productive use of the work from home time.

Maintaining revenues such as voice traffic can be key. Consumers and businesses have rediscovered calling. Promote that service, especially the high quality of your voice connections. Using a premium supplier that protects you from exposure fraud also protects you and your customers from unforseen costs. Be prepared to cement that goodwill that your customers feel towards you right now.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to have been prudent and maintained strong cash liquidity, times of recession can often be times of the best top-line growth. During hard times, business customers are looking to cut costs, and will be more receptive to moving away from their current providers to be able to save money. This is when they will look to competitive suppliers. So have your marketing and especially your front line sales staff prepared for this opportunity. You can attract customers with new offerings too; to increase the value of your bundle how about internet, home phone and asset tracking ?

We will get through this period, we are resilient and we are strong, especially together. As always, Amitel and AurorA are here to help. Reach out to me to have deeper discussions on the above, or any other pain points you may be experiencing. Reach out to me just to talk ! Looking forward to growing together with you in 2020 as we navigate through these unusual and uncertain times.

Your Friend in Telecom

Timo

Thanks to Carmi Levy, @carmilevy for use of his superb photograph. Follow his work at http://writteninc.blogspot.com/

Calling Line ID

Would you answer the call on the left ?

A premium, high quality international carrier endeavours to always pass true calling line ID. The importance of this cannot be understated in this era of increased telecom fraud. Voice calls have always attracted hackers, cheats, hoaxers and swindlers. Telephony frauds can range from the use of grey routes and CLID manipulation to Wangiri (one ring) and PBX hacking to stimulate International Revenue Share Fraud (IRSF). True CLID helps mitigate telecom fraud.

Why, as a responsible service provider, should you ensure that you always pass true CLID ? Why not give in to the siren song of cheaper, lower cost grey routes? In the end, choosing the Least Cost Route that doesn’t pass true CLID will cost you more and provide lower value.

1) The top line revenue will suffer. If the true CLID is not passed through to the far end customer being called, a large percentage of the calls will not be answered. There is NO revenue generated by unanswered calls ! Think about it, do you personally answer calls from a number you don’t know ? Or when “Unknown” shows up from a blank CLID ? Of course you don’t. Your customers and their friends and family are no different.

2) Grey routes will often spoof the CLID to get around regulatory restrictions. Here India is a classic example. The regulator, TRAI, has set strict guidelines for the rates charged for incoming international calls. Many schemes from fraudsters have set up leaky PBX’s or SIM box fraud schemes in India connected to the internet to take inbound calls from overseas and pass them into the Indian market, changing the CLID to a local Indian number to bypass the true rates. You think you are benefitting from a cheap rate, but the quality is usually sub-standard and many of the calls go unanswered, or then abandoned for poor quality when it is answered.

3) Origin based surcharges are triggered by blank CLID. I wrote about Origin Based Surcharges here, but there are also cases where calls from Canada are not subject to these charges. For example, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey-Turkcell Mobile recently introduced origin based surcharges for calls from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco (not Canada or the USA). If the CLID is blank though, they levy a massive surcharge ! More and more countries, including ones from outside of Europe are levying such origin based surcharges. Not having proper CLID leaves you vulnerable to paying far more than you anticipated.

4) Further to the above, carriers are now doing this; “Also, if a call is sent with what appears to be a valid A-number but is later shown by the terminating network to be a manipulated or modified A-number, we reserve the right to recalculate the billing as per the charges applied by terminating supplier for those calls within 90 days of invoice date of the relevant traffic month.” That means that carriers and countries are actively looking for spoofed CLID and will levy the maximum surcharges accordingly. (ie a spoofed CLID equates to a missing one)

5) The USA has moved to Caller ID authentication and verification using the STIR/SHAKEN protocol. Canada is following suit as the CRTC has asked telecommunications service providers to implement, by September 2020, the STIR/SHAKEN framework which is a caller ID authentication and verification measure. It aims to certify the extent to which a given caller’s identity can be trusted. This will empower Canadians to determine which calls are authenticated, thus reducing the frequency and impact of caller ID spoofing on consumers. As a service provider you will need to ensure valid, trusted CLID for all calls within Canada and the USA by September 2020.

The evidence is overwhelming . Ensure that you send true CLID each and every call. Choose a carrier for your international traffic termination that passes true CLID. Avoid cheap, poor quality grey routes ; the new LCR stands for Least Corrupt Routing !

Origin Based Pricing

Wholesale telecom used to be simple. There was one rate per minute to call a country overseas from Canada. Then deregulation and liberalization came in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and competition came to international telecom. We saw rates broken out for large cities within countries; then cellular came and we had breakouts for mobile phones, then for individual mobile carriers. The size of wholesale rate tables exploded.

Prices dropped dramatically over the years to where eventually calls to industrialized nations in North America, Europe and Asia were under a penny a minute for wholesale costs for landline AND for mobiles.

The one constant was that a country charged a rate for termination regardless of where the traffic came from. They didn’t discriminate. Then in late 2015 we started to see something new, coming out of France initially ; origin based pricing. Calls to France had different prices depending on where the call was coming from. For example a call to a mobile number in Paris might cost $0.03 per minute if called from Berlin, but cost $0.30 per minute if called from Hong Kong. Why ?

Well, telephony revenues had steadily declined for years all over the globe. New OTT players like Skype were taking huge market share. Then the EU began to mandate that roaming charges for calls within the EU be reduced to eventually zero (so that you could Roam Like Home all across the EU)
So the carriers were desperate for revenue, and they chose to find it from customers from outside of the EU.

The EU Commission initially fought Arcep (French regulator) over origin based pricing as the Commission sets European termination rates, but found that for calls originating outside of the EU it had no jurisdiction. The game was now on. Other European countries quickly followed suit. Austria , Belgium, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland were among the countries that introduced origin based pricing. Origin is determined by the caller ID of the calling party so the surcharge applies if it is outside the EU or if the caller ID is missing or blank.

Initially, these surcharges were mandated by the country regulators. To avoid trade disputes with countries that they had free trade agreements with, the surcharges were not charged for origination from Canada or the USA. Blank CLID still drew a hefty surcharge.

In January 2019 we saw a new phenomenon originating in Malta. It seems that all of the Maltese mobile carriers simultaneously saw the need to introduce surcharges for calls from outside of the EU. No longer was there an exemption for Canada or the USA. This has now been copied by other countries like Belgium and more recently Germany.

My complaints to the Canadian Trade Commissioners office generated this response

As the surcharge was a decision by the national operators in Malta, according to the TATA communication, and not a requirement of the telecommunications authority, there are no implications for the CETA. Our CETA commitments on telecommunications (like all services) apply specifically to government measures and do not affect the decisions of commercial service providers. So, nothing in the CETA would prevent a telecommunications service provider from raising its rates (or add a “surcharge”), including in a manner that discriminates on the basis of the origin of the call. If the additional surcharge had been a mandated requirement by the regulatory body, this would be considered a measure under the CETA and likely a violation of national treatment/most-favoured nation. But this does not seem to be the case here.

So where do we go from here ? Well, what we are seeing is that there is increased pressure on retail rates, driving customers to OTT providers such as WhatsApp and Skype. Carriers trying to circumvent the surcharges are seeking out grey route suppliers instead of premium quality suppliers like AurorA that will manipulate the CLI and route traffic through a third country like Ireland. The quality of these routes are often poor, and the manipulated CLI means the far end doesn’t know who is calling and reduces the ASR considerably (especially if the called party is a senior). Do you answer calls from a CLID you don’t recognize ?

Either way you are either losing revenue and customers to the OTT or providing poor service and then losing revenue and customers. That is not acceptable.

AurorA’s answer is to continue to fight these surcharges. The oligopoly won’t do it as they are perfectly happy to just add their 50% margin to these surcharges and reap the revenue bonus. AurorA will continue to show the Canadian Trade Commissioners and the staff at the ISED ministry that the EU telecom companies are violating MFN (most favoured nation) principles under the WTO, the CETA and FIPA (Foreign Investment Protection Acts).

Perhaps I am tilting at windmills; I think it is very important though. Calls that terminate in European countries make up nearly 20% of the world market. It is important for you, my wholesale customers, that we can return to the days where calls to the industrialized nations of the world were under a penny a minute , for landlines and for mobiles.