When T-Mobile executives wanted to shake up the U.S. cellular industry, they announced the Un-carrier initiative, offering to free customers from long-term cellular contracts and expand their access to no- or low-cost roaming plans — a strategy that was once painted as unsustainable, yet helped the company win over huge numbers of customers and ultimately absorb smaller rival Sprint. Today, the combined company is a viable third-place challenger to Verizon and AT&T, so it’s announcing Un-carrier Next, the 17th step in its plan to “continue to change wireless for good.”
The focus of the announcement is on fighting scam calls and robocalls, which have reached a critical point — 58.5 billion robocalls and scam calls annually — made worse as carriers have historically charged customers fees for services that fight these calls. Under the new program, T-Mobile, Metro, and Sprint customers are getting free access to Caller ID services and multiple “ScamShield” spam fighting features, as well as free services that will let them get fresh new phone numbers if they want.
Initially, T-Mobile is rolling out a new ScamBlock feature so customers can block scam calls manually using only a dialing code. On July 24, a more fully functioned ScamShield app will become available for download, adding granular controls over different types of blocking — some for free, some for an additional charge, including calls from prison phones, political numbers, telemarketers, and other categories of potentially unwanted callers. There will also be a simple way to report spam callers.
T-Mobile notes that it is fighting scam calls and robocalls on a network level, using an AI system that updates its profile every six minutes to create network-wide blocks on user-reported callers and suspicious routing of calls, as well as employing the industry-wide caller verification system Stir/Shaken. This contrasts with prior device-level blocking approaches that require OS- or app-specific measures to block calls as they come in, instead stopping them before the phone ever rings or sending them straight to voicemail. T-Mobile users will now see Caller ID details in the same way as they see contact information, and/or a mark of StirShaken verification to let callers know a real person or business is calling.
Arguably the biggest surprise in the event was the announcement that T-Mobile customers will be given a free second phone number, called Proxy#, which will let individual users and families have a way to avoid sharing their personal numbers with companies that gather and share numbers. Proxy# will apparently be a single shareable number across an entire family account, and include a separate voicemail box, which can gather up calls from businesses. The company will also allow customers to have a fresh start with their first phone number, switching for free.
The “Un-carrier” moniker has been meant to signal that T-Mobile isn’t a traditional cellular carrier, and the various initiatives that rolled out over the years have been stabs at common carrier practices: confusing billing, extended contract requirements, crazy international roaming fees, and so on. In each case, T-Mobile took the opportunity to “fix” rivals’ perplexing practices. Today’s move fits that mold, dramatically reducing if not fully eliminating user costs for fighting bad callers who have been empowered by the growth and low costs of scamming people on mobile networks.