It turns out that Verizon (and all the other carriers, presumably) really do go around asking “can you hear me now?” The actual test conversation sounds different (possible source?) and the testing is automated, but there really are people out in the world doing real coverage testing.
I guess I naively assumed that it was all theoretical and computer modeled, or something. Anyway, MobileTracker rode around Tampa, FL, with a Verizon Wireless test guy Levy Rippy back in February:
Verizon Wireless operates testing teams in major markets all across the US. Levy typically logs 3,000+ miles per month (and that’s city driving, I don’t envy him). Besides testing their own network, these teams check up on their competitors. Levy’s rig was testing Verizon Wireless, Sprint PCS, ALLTEL, Nextel, T-Mobile and AT&T (Cingular). In addition to voice, each company’s data service is tested. Data testing is still pretty new so EV-DO hasn’t been worked into the system, only 1xRTT is checked for Verizon Wireless.
The author notes that he’d like to see a consumer organization do similar testing and release the maps/data to the public. Cost of test equipment might be a barrier, as the Verizon Wireless test rig reportedly costs over $250,000. The low cost of WiFi equipment and ease with which we can map hotspots has spoiled us, though I bet the right person could knock together some hacker-grade test equipment in an evening. Airtime, of course, could get expensive.
Picture credit: Jeff Veen and his brother.