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The Truth Behind Caller Name Display

Both individual consumers and enterprise technicians come to OpenCNAM looking to find answers on why their “Outbound Caller ID” isn’t always displaying on calls, or incorrect values are being displayed. While at a high level it would seem to be straightforward, many find that it’s an enigmatic system and impossible to track down why the expected name isn’t being displayed. The world of CNAM (Caller Name) often stumps even the savviest of companies.


In an attempt to clear some of the mystique surrounding CNAM, let’s address a few misconceptions and discuss the process by which a name will appear on an inbound call.

“Outbound Caller ID” is routinely referred to when discussing the name-value associated with a phone number that should display when making a call out. In reality, “Outbound Caller ID” is an inaccurate description for two reasons:

  1. “Caller ID” refers to only the 10 digit phone number and not the associated name value. However, even “Outbound CNAM” is misleading because… For the vast majority of calls originating in North America, there is no CNAM value being sent by the originating carrier. CNAM is provided to the end-user by the terminating carrier through a CNAM query (or dip) to the appropriate CNAM database (repository) for nearly every telephone call.

  2. For the vast majority of calls originating in North America, there is no CNAM value being sent by the originating carrier. CNAM is provided to the end-user by the terminating carrier through a CNAM query (or dip) to the appropriate CNAM database (repository) for nearly every telephone call.

In order for a CNAM value to appear on a called party’s phone, several moving pieces need to function in sync. Let’s break this down into each party’s role, their responsibility, and potential issues resulting in a CNAM value inaccurately/not displaying:

The Consumer (Outbound Caller)

Role/responsibility: The only responsibility of the calling party is to provide the desired Caller Name to their phone carrier. This functionality is commonly available in the online portal provided by the phone carrier, or via a brief call with a phone carrier’s support team.

Potential issues: In many instances, the consumer can not update a CNAM record with their carrier due to their carrier not supporting CNAM updates or delivery. This is especially true among many low-cost/free phone services. In these cases, the CNAM displayed for a phone number will most often be “WIRELESS CALLER” for mobile, or a city/state response for landlines.

The Originating Carrier (Outbound Caller’s Carrier)

Role/responsibility: A consumer’s phone carrier is responsible for populating the appropriate CNAM repository with the name supplied to them by the consumer. For example, AT&T and CenturyLink store records in their own repository, but most carriers use a CNAM service provider like OpenCNAM to store their records. Rather than one central CNAM database, there are roughly 20 authoritative databases within the US.

Potential Issues: Some carriers can only update CNAM records for “on-network” display. This means that the CNAM values stored, will only display when both the outbound and inbound parties use the same phone carrier. While this is not as common within the United States, many phone carriers in Canada will ONLY offer this type of CNAM service. With “on-network” storage and display, the updated CNAM value will only display on a handful of calls.

The Terminating Carrier (Call recipient’s carrier)

Role: When the terminating carrier receives an inbound call, it is their responsibility to retrieve the CNAM value of the calling party. Each phone number has associated routing information used to identify which repository the CNAM value is stored in.

Potential Issues: As is the case with CNAM updates, some carriers don’t offer CNAM delivery, which means only the Caller ID (10-digit number) will be displayed on an inbound call. This will happen regardless of if the CNAM value is stored in the appropriate repository by the originating carrier.

For mobile service providers, CNAM is frequently an upsell rather than being included in the price of the phone plan. As this increases the monthly cost to the consumer, many individuals will choose to forgo CNAM delivery on inbound calls, resulting in only the Caller ID being displayed when a call is received.

Another reason that CNAM may not display correctly is due to some CNAM providers relying heavily on non-carrier supplied caller name values. These sources can be less expensive (but less accurate) for the providers to source and can lead to the incorrect name values appearing on calls. This is often the case with third party caller name app providers but is also an accepted method among carriers.

If any of these components do not function properly, the expected CNAM value may not display. Unfortunately, this means that the consumer and originating carrier have little control over what CNAM values are displayed. Rather, it is the terminating carrier or their 3rd-party CNAM provider that will control what is displayed to their customer.

Last of all, Toll-Free phone numbers are treated differently and the process for displaying CNAM varies from carrier to carrier. Historically, there have been no standards or industry protocols regarding Toll-Free CNAM. A recent partnership between Telo and Somos aims to fix this with the first-ever authoritative database used for storing and delivering Toll-Free CNAM to consumers. However, while this database is being adopted among voice providers, there may be instances where companies using a Toll-Free line may not have their CNAM value displayed to the subscriber receiving their call.

What can be done to fix the CNAM associated with a line?

After a CNAM update has been made with the carrier it may take up to 72 hours before the value has been propagated to the network. If after 72 hours the correct CNAM value is still not appearing, contact OpenCNAM at support@opencnam.com for additional assistance. The support team can perform diagnostics on the issue to see if there is any further action that can be taken for the phone number in question.

OpenCNAM is used by carriers and communication providers to solve these types of issues for all your customers while offering a lower cost than traditional vendors. If you’re reading this but don’t offer phone services, suggest OpenCNAM by Telo to your voice provider. Telo is committed to restoring trust in communications between the carriers, businesses, and consumers. High-quality CNAM delivery and storage is only the start.


The Caller ID product is advanced. Everything else is simple.