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AT&T’s Call Protect Is like an E-Mail Filter for Calls

Spam isn’t just confined to e-mail. In the US alone, consumers receive millions of fraudulent calls each year scamming them out of billions of dollars. There are some filtering methods, but none that is foolproof and few that put the user in complete control.

Yesterday AT&T announced a new network-based service that enables mobile subscribers to manage unwanted calls. The company’s Call Protect offering enables Android and iOS users to block further calls from a certain number and also warns the customer about suspected spam calls — likely from using frequently blocked numbers. Furthermore, customers can use a dedicated AT&T app to access features such as temporary call blocking.

Call Protect is a free, opt-in service only available to post-paid smartphones subscribers using AT&T’s voice-over-LTE service. But as AT&T sunsets its GSM network and builds out 4G, there should be wide interest for this fraud protection service. Given the crowdsourcing spam-warning aspect of the service, the more widely it’s used, the better it will get.

AT&T’s Call Protect is a welcome service, but not unprecedented. Many fixed-line carriers provide customers the ability to block and filter calls as do several over-the-top voice services. Google’s Pixel phone offers a similar feature native to Android devices, allowing users to block and report spam calls. Pixel users also receive warnings when receiving a call from a number that’s suspected to be spam or fraud. Like AT&T, Google can use crowdsourced reporting, perhaps even dipping into data collected via Google Voice, an over-the-top voice service offered by Google. Ultimately, to optimise protection, carriers would be wise to cooperate on such consumer protection services, sharing information between them on frequently blocked and reported numbers.

Among legacy voice services, AT&T’s Call Protect is the second major modernisation announcement this month from a US wireless carrier; T-Mobile USA recently unveiled a number sharing service (see Numbers Game) that brings the phone number into the Internet era. Connectivity commoditisation is driving wireless operators to layer proprietary services on top of standardised solutions. It’s a way to differentiate, and is particularly alluring in the US, where average revenue per user is among the highest in the world.

AT&T’s Call Protect is a commendable service but it’s a catch-up effort. Carriers will need to keep innovating to be on a par with features that over-the-top services now offer. We expect a race as carriers roll out distinct services that address consumer “pain points”.