Keeping Up On The Network

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Driving around a car that has 13 small antennas mounted on the roof tends to get Rick Thompson noticed.

A glance here, a stare there and an occasional question from fellow motorists when he stops for lunch all are part of a typical day on the road for Thompson.

“You do get some looks from people. They know something’s up,” said Thompson, a systems performance technician for Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest provider of cellular and digital telephone service.

Thompson is among a handful of Verizon staff in Michigan who spend countless hours and miles on the road each month testing the company’s wireless telephone network. His vehicle, a 2000 Ford Taurus station wagon, is equipped with $250,000 in equipment — including phones from both Verizon and its competitors — that continually calls a test number to gauge the audio quality and reliability of Verizon’s and other wireless networks.

“Basically it’s just benchmarking us and how we’re doing against our competitors,” Thompson said during a recent stop in Grand Rapids.

The car Thompson was driving was one of two “quality-mobiles” Verizon put on the road last year in Michigan as part of a $4 billion effort to improve its wireless network nationwide, about $100 million of which is being spent in the state. Verizon, which has 27.5 million subscribers nationwide, uses the data collected from the test vehicles to address reliability issues such as signal interference.

“The network is constantly evolving in terms of technology and capability,” said Aaron Glass, executive director of network systems for Verizon in Michigan. “It’s important to measure it constantly so we can make adjustments wherever it’s needed.”

Adjusting a signal’s strength is required to accommodate peak demand periods on the network, as well as to overcome obstacles that can block a signal, Glass said. Sometimes something as simple as the foliage on trees can cause signal interference, he said.

The test vehicles rotate daily routes that cover Verizon’s Michigan network.

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