“Can you hear me now?” Verizon Wireless’ spokesman repeatedly asks in commercials, and no matter what the condition, his service is always perfect.
Bill Madden is the real-life equivalent of the mascot, and he was on campus last week to make sure that someone can always be heard on Temple’s Main Campus.
Madden’s “quality assurance on wheels” aimed to test, analyze and improve the Verizon Wireless customer’s experience, according to Public Relations Manager Sheldon Jones.
With more than $330,000 of equipment packed into his Chevrolet Trailblazer, Madden tests mobile phones for spots of bad reception.
The point of his tests is to find cell service weak spots – areas where phones experience dropped calls, busy signs or no service.
In 2004, Verizon Wireless invested $160 million towards enhancing their network in the tri-state region.
This year, the growing network reached out to Temple.
The University selected Verizon Wireless to provide 1,000 lines throughout campus and to deploy additional data solutions to its faculty and staff, according to Natalie Giuliante, account coordinator for Verizon Wireless.
On Friday, Madden and his Chevy Trailblazer put Temple University to the test. Throughout campus and its surrounding streets, Madden tested mobile phone reception of Verizon Wireless and its biggest competitors.
Embedded in the back of Madden’s “quality assurance on wheels” is an elaborate testing system. The vehicle has eight different mobile phones, which allow Madden to compare cellular signals from such service providers as Sprint PCS, T-Mobile digital, Nextel, and Cingular digital.
Every 170 seconds, a pre-recorded sentence such as “These days a leg of chicken is a rare dish!” or “He carved a head from the round block of marble,” travels through eight different mobile phones.
Although these sentences may sound strange, they allow the computer to test all frequencies of the human voice.
The computer can then determine the quality, fidelity and speed of the connection. If even a fraction of a syllable is missed because of bad reception, the computer catches it.
The Harvard Sentences, named after a Harvard professor who developed them, are recorded with both male and female voices to ensure that the test recognizes all tones of the English language.
This is how Madden locates those cell service weak spots.
After the road tests are complete, Madden travels back to his office to analyze the data.
By identifying the problem areas, the results allow Verizon Wireless to place more cell tower sites and add capacity on existing ones.
These tests assure that Verizon Wireless customers get the fewest calling interruptions and the best service possible, according to Madden.
Madden found that cell signals around the campus were strong. One of Verizon Wireless’ competitors experienced a dropped call on the route, but all other connections were clear.
So if the tests proved that the cell signals are strong, why do students experience reception problems on campus? Buildings in a confined space, like those at Temple, block cell phone users from their respective cell phone towers.
“If you have a lot of buildings, you are going to need a lot of cell towers,” Madden said.
Verizon Wireless has proposed a site for a new tower on campus to add capacity to help solve the problem, according to Madden.
Madden’s road tests perform at any speeds, but the weather or the climate can seriously alter the results. Heavy rainfall, wind, or even too many leaves on a tree can block a service signal.
Madden covers more than 1,700 miles each month. He drives from Allentown to the Jersey Shore and frequently stops in Philadelphia.
The general population experiences a 50 percent increase year after year in cell phone usage, according to Madden.
Nationwide, 175 million people own at least one cell phone.
Verizon Wireless provides cell phone service for a network of more than 43.8 million customers.
Kim Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.