Can you hear me now?

Rebecca Ray

Traveling more than 2,000 miles each month testing and tracking data about the Verizon Wireless network and its six competitors is the roaming baseline technician or “Test Man” Bill Madden.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Philadelphia’s real-life “Can You Hear Me Now?” guy himself and ride in the “test vehicle” down the streets of Philadelphia. Cruising down the Main Line in the Chevrolet Trailblazer outfitted with $330,000 worth of sophisticated testing equipment, in which thousands of wireless calls are continuously dialed, recorded and stored for analysis, I discovered some interesting features about Verizon and this Chester County native.

Madden, who tracks the Verizon Wireless Philadelphia Tri-State network along with the rest of the area network team, identifies areas of improvement with the goal of generating the best network available. After all, a wireless phone is only as good as the network it’s on.

Using his laptop equipped with the latest baseLINE Benchmarking System software, he monitors both sound and service quality. Using the “Harvard Sentences,” sentences balanced phonetically to reflect frequencies of phonemes in the language, he is able to assess speech quality of phone calls which are continually made from his eight wireless phones in the back of his SUV. This collective data is sent back to a mainframe at regional headquarters where it is studied, mapped, and improved. Madden travels across eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland performing these in-depth studies.

Madden has been in the technology field since 1983 and manufactured telecommunications components for 20 years. Now at Verizon, he has the opportunity to ascertain how the devices that he produced were integrated into the entire wireless network. His job is anything but ordinary. He faces unique challenges on a daily basis but he and all the other Verizon employees work hard to ensure that they are generating the strongest network.

“Verizon is extremely progressive in making sure we are the best and most reliable and when we say we’re the most reliable – we are,” Madden says.

Almost all of Verizon’s towers have backup service. Also, they have what are called “Cells on Wheels” (COWS) which are fully functional, generator-powered mobile cell sites that enhance service coverage and capacity particularly useful in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster that would weaken service in certain areas. In fact, during the recent hurricanes Florida had this past year, Verizon sent out several of these devices to help those residents who suffered damage and loss of wireless capability.

This past January, Verizon completed a $160 million investment for 2004 to further enhance the company’s network in the Philadelphia Tri-State region. This investment included updating transmission sites and other technology to improve call quality, increase coverage areas and allow a wide array of advanced services such as wireless broadband computing, text and video messaging and other applications, with additional major network investment to continue through 2005.

Maintaining its claim of superiority, Verizon announced the expansion of its Evolution Data Optimized (EV-DO) third generation (3G) wide-area network in the Philadelphia area. Their 3G EV-DO network allows for BroadbandAccess, the fastest wide area wireless Internet access service in the nation, and for VCAST, the nation’s first 3G wireless multimedia service for consumers.

“Aside from being a great company we are very proactive to be the first to market new products,” Madden says. One of Verizon’s latest products is the LG VX8000 V CAST-enabled phone which does pretty much everything for you but your laundry. In addition to text messaging, taking and receiving pictures and calling, you can watch television shows, news clips and movies or receive latest stock and other news reports as well as play video games and take short movie clips.

Verizon is the only wireless carrier that employs test men and women throughout the country with the sole purpose of daily testing and monitoring of the network to guarantee the company’s network leadership. The famous “Can You Hear Me Now?” television ad campaign was centered on this real life “quality assurance on wheels.”

With more than 43.8 million customers, approximately 160 switching facilities, over 21,000 cell cites, and spending over $4 bilion in annual investment, Verizon has truly met their claim of excellence in the field and has expanded its high-quality network nationwide. Verizon Wireless is unquestionably an industry leader and that became completely evident after my car ride with the real-life “Can You Hear Me Now” guy himself, Bill Madden.