What are flash calls and how do they work?
What is a flash call?
A flash call is a near-instant dropped call that is automatically placed to a mobile number, usually as part of an authentication process known as flash call verification. By default, there is no termination fee charge for the call as it is not answered and is simply recorded as a missed call in the phone’s log.
Flash call verification is used as a cost-effective authentication solution and is particularly popular in countries where SMS and mobile phone calls are comparatively expensive.
How does flash call verification work?
Flash call verification is a way of authenticating a mobile phone number without the mobile user having to take any action.
It is used when a mobile user is registering for a service, installing an app, or doing anything that requires them to provide a valid mobile phone number to complete the process.
Unlike most conventional 2FA solutions that require the person to sometimes manually enter a code that is sent to them by SMS, the process uses some of the digits from the incoming calling number as the passcode. This is all done programmatically using APIs, so the customer doesn’t have to do anything and will be notified almost immediately that the verification process has been successful.
What are the benefits of flash call verification?
For businesses and their customers there are two primary benefits:
- Cost: With the reduced costs of flash call verification businesses can marginally make savings and therefore cover more use cases, including appointment booking, online payments, and even public Wi-Fi connections.
- Convenience: In most cases the process is silent and doesn’t require any action on the part of the user.
That all sounds good – what is the catch?
For end users there really is no catch – they get a quick, free, and painless authentication process.
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are the ones that stand to lose out. Flash calls are delivered via their infrastructure, but unlike SMS and text-to-speech calls they historically don’t make any revenue from them. Understandably they might consider this a bit unfair.
What should MNOs do about flash calls?
To be able to monetize this traffic, MNOs need to act fast and get two things in place:
- They must be able to reliably identify flash calls made via their infrastructure.
- They need to be able to process voice call set-up traffic in real-time to allow them to control flash calls – either treated (via blocking or disruption) as revenue leakage of the A2P SMS traffic or to monetize flash calls with an exclusive or small set of partners.
To be able to treat flash calls in real-time, the first step is to introduce voice firewalls. Not only do these detect flash call traffic but they are also a key tool in preventing fraudulent activity like robocalling and grey routing of A2P SMS traffic. Not only do voice firewalls safeguard MNOs revenues but they can also be used to protect their subscribers from other voice frauds such as Wangiri.
What can MNOs do?
Weighing up the benefits of flash calls, potential threats and the need for firewalls (covering at least SMS and voice), MNOs need to strategically examine their value for the whole ecosystem of phone number (MSISDN) verification. In their favor, they provide the network assets that can be ubiquitously used on any device to implement the verification process in a secure and trusted manner.
If MNOs tactically decide to provide multiple channels for phone number verification, then they need to consider the merit and use case for each channel and market this accordingly. For example, a text to speech call can be used in areas where the literacy rate is low. In the case of multiple channels, pricing needs to be designed such that the maximum revenue is gained overall. For example, one channel can be used as a secondary method in case of failure of the primary channel – meaning that the revenue associated with phone number verification is booked in case of failure on the primary channel.
Crucially, we have both the technical and compliance expertise to prevent fraud and identify billable calls, without mistakenly blocking legitimate traffic and therefore eroding revenues. While most SMS Firewalls only protect text messages, in order to offer verification over multiple channels, MNOs need to plan and deploy an “omnichannel” firewall supporting SMS, Voice, Signalling and other MNO native channels such as MMS and RCS.