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T-Mobile sparks new robocall efforts, promises 'aggressive' offers

T-Mobile said it will work more aggressively to shield its customers from spam and robocalls. And the company will also launch "new, aggressive offers" next week as it prepares to officially unify the T-Mobile and Sprint brands on August 2.

T-Mobile hosted an online "Un-carrier" launch event Thursday with actor Anthony Anderson and CEO Mike Sievert to outline its new robocall initiative. The company said it would offer a number of spam and robocall-blocking services for free, including a caller ID service for which it used to charge $4 per month.

As in previous Un-carrier announcements, Sievert used today's event to take aim at his competitors, specifically calling out Verizon for charging extra for caller ID services. "That's just crazy," he said. "This industry shouldn't be profiting from this."

He claimed that Verizon makes "billions of dollars" from charging extra for various call-blocking services.

T-Mobile officials declined to say how many customers currently subscribe to the caller ID service it will no longer charge extra for.

Verizon just last month announced that its free Call Filter app for smartphone consumers has blocked over 5 billion spam and robocalls since last year. Verizon offers a premium version of its Call Filter app, which provides services including caller ID and a "spam risk meter," for an extra $3 per month for one line or $8 per month extra for three or more lines. Similarly, AT&T offers an app that provides "automatic fraud blocking" and other call-blocking services for free, but charges $4 per month for services such as caller ID.

T-Mobile said it will offer free scam and robocall blocking – powered in part by artificial intelligence and machine learning – on a network level, which means that T-Mobile customers will not have to download an app to access the service. The operator also said it will offer free caller ID, a free second number (which customers can use to register for online services in order to keep their personal number secret) and a free number change for customers whose personal number "becomes a spam magnet."

However, T-Mobile said it will continue to sell premium blocking services, just not caller ID. The company's new "Scam Shield Premium" app will allow customers to create "always block" lists and get voicemail-to-text services, among other offerings. Scam Shield Premium will cost $4 per month per line for T-Mobile's postpaid customers, though it is included at no extra charge for customers on the operator's Magenta Plus plan.

AT&T wasted no time in responding to T-Mobile's announcements. "It's nice to see other carriers working to catch up. We started our first network-based analytics and blocking program in 2016. We've automatically added AT&T Call Protect – also network-based – to millions of lines for no extra cost. No app needed, and you can get even more no-cost features if you download the AT&T Call Protect app," AT&T said.

T-Mobile's announcement occurred on the same day that the FCC voted to implement additional regulations designed to allow operators to more aggressively block robocalls. Specifically, the agency said it will allow phone companies to use "reasonable analytics, including caller ID authentication information, to identify and block illegal or unwanted calls." The FCC also said it will allow operators like T-Mobile to "block call traffic from bad actor upstream voice service providers that pass illegal or unwanted calls along to other providers, when those upstream providers have been notified but fail to take action to stop these calls."

The FCC previously has taken steps to implement STIR/SHAKEN standards among network operators. The agency said the standards help prevent robocalls by validating real calls before they reach consumers. Although both T-Mobile and Verizon have both voiced support for the STIR/SHAKEN standards, the two have not directly inked an STIR/SHAKEN agreement, according to T-Mobile's website. T-Mobile said it has inked STIR/SHAKEN agreements with AT&T and Comcast. A Verizon representative said the company is working with "more than a dozen providers including other large wireless and wireline carriers as well as leading cable providers" on STIR/SHAKEN, but declined to name them.

As for T-Mobile's rebranding effort, the company said that its Sprint stores will be converted to the T-Mobile brand on August 2. The company also promised to announce "new, aggressive offers to be unveiled next week … saving people money, challenging the competition and raising the bar for the industry."

Past T-Mobile Un-carrier announcements have focused on new pricing plans and promotions such as free Netflix.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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