The underlying fabric of the global voice market is being exploited by fraudsters. Andrew Bale, CEO, Wavecrest, talks to Comms Business about how his company is primed to tackle the issue.

Wavecrest is a global managed voice and messaging services company that provides a platform to bring together cloud communications providers and telecoms operators in a fully compliant and open environment.

Andrew Bale, non-executive director at Tango Networks, joined the company as its CEO in September 2023 with a mission to bring a new class of voice service to cloud operators. He has retained his advisory role at Tango Networks.

His view is that the global voice market is an unwitting participant in the huge growth of spam and fraud for citizens, and the industry is trying to implement new rules and processes to bring this under control. Wavecrest is one of the founding members of OneConsortium, a new global organisation designed to help national regulators with best practice.

When asked what pulled him into Wavecrest’s mission, Bale said, “At Tango, we were helping businesses to mobilise enterprise voice and we started seeing more and more challenges with the underlying fabric of voice in an enterprise space.”

Bale explained that when the voice market relied on ISDN or SIP trunks being connected to the network operator, it just worked. Now, with the move to cloud, the network is unfamiliar with the concept of domestic calls originating from abroad.

He said, “If I’m a contact centre in the UK, the phone call I’m making could be coming from a server farm that is quite possibly offshore. I’m a UK employee, working for a UK contact centre, talking to UK customers, soI want my phone number to be a UK phone number.

“But that is against all of the regulatory rules. When you make a domestic UK phone call, you’re supposed to be making it from a switch sitting in the UK.”

Closing the voice market

Bale said the voice market has evolved and that has delivered fantastic benefits. But, he added, the “underlying fabric” of how to make a phone call and whether you allow that phone call to be a domestic phone call is “fundamentally broken” and it’s being exploited by fraudsters.

He explained, “There’s this enormous growth in fraudulent activity, almost all of which is generated by either phone calls or texts sent to consumers. And it’s been a frog boiling activity. It’s gradually gotten a little bit worse, and the regulators haven’t quite known what to do about it. New white papers and so on come out every year but, finally, it’s broken.

“The pace of the problem, the scale of the problem and the noise in the industry is so great that regulators are having to do something about it. And, in doing something about it, they’re risking shutting the door on the fingers of this cloud voice marketplace.”

Stopping spam

OneConsortium has been established to try to solve this issue. Bale said, “There’s a group called i3Forum which is a technical group consisting of international carriers. That group gets together on a regular basis to define standards by which international voice works. For example, how you settle bills and how you allow roaming and so forth.

“About six months ago, the noise in the industry around how on earth do we stop this problem of spam became so great, and it was clear that different regulators were taking radically different approaches.”

Bale highlighted the STIR/SHAKEN suite of protocols and procedures that have been rolled out in the United States and Canada. Despite the good intentions, Bale said this deep technological solution has not worked well in practice as there are “too many gaps”, so it hasn’t meaningfully driven down the amount of spam in those countries.

In addition, Bale explained, France adopted the same approach but did so in a way that was incompatible with the United States and Canada.

i3Forum identified a problem that was developing in the market whereby different countries were developing ways to try to stop this fraudulent activity, but that would then impact on global solutions.

The group resolved to bring together carriers, regulators and technology providers to encourage best practice and help regulators “to put the right tools in place to resolve this in a consistent fashion”. That activity formed OneConsortium.

Here in the UK, Bale explained, Ofcom has indicated it does not want a deep technological solution like STIR/SHAKEN and is actively participating in OneConsortium activities.

Bale emphasised OneConsortium’s view: “Our approach to all of the regulators is: let’s not take any abrupt decisions that are unaligned with everybody else. Let’s spend the next few months deeply diving into approaches. [The solution will involve] technology, good practice and processes that weed out bad actors.

“We need to make sure that the industry as a whole starts to put a few standard building blocks in place, and starts to adopt those building blocks consistently.”

Regulatory sound voice services

Wavecrest itself is introducing a new suite of services designed to allow cloud providers to consume voice services in a way that will meet the obligations OneConsortium is advising regulators to consider.

Bale explained, “We’re rolling out as we speak and it’ll be a journey. There are elements that will develop over the next six to nine months, and coverage is developing quite rapidly. We cover about 40 countries at the moment and our objective is to get to 70 countries by the end of the year.

“It’s a journey as we want to ensure we develop regulatorily sound processes, practices and services. But we’re open for business.”

This interview appeared in our May 2024 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.