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Monday, September 3, 2007

Verizon lab ensures network works

Verizon lab ensures network works

Wireless company tests every device for compatibility

When you turn on your wireless phone, you probably don't care much about what happens behind the scenes.

But the engineers at the newly expanded Verizon Wireless Test Lab here sweat the details. Their job is to test the latest models of wireless devices, everything from telephones and personal digital assistants to wireless earpieces, before they are sold.

"We have customers who expect a certain experience, and we have to verify that (the device) is going to provide that experience," said Lou LaMedica, the lab's director.

Verizon unveiled its ex panded national test lab earlier this month. The 11,000-square-foot laboratory is four times its original size.

Each year, engineers at the lab:

• Review more than 300 manufacturer submissions and about 85 individual devices.

• Perform as many as 100 tests per device with many undergoing multiple rounds of review.

• Verify up to 4.2 million lines of software code per device.

"We can have the best network in the world, but if that network doesn't have a quality device interfacing to the hu man ear, then the customer is not going to appreciate the quality of the network," said Dick Lynch, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Verizon Communications.

The point is to test devices to make sure they operate in virtually any circumstance. For instance, if a phone "gets dropped a few times, we still want to make sure it works for the customer," Lynch said.

Beyond durability, the engineers also test voice call quality and the phone's ability to download data, such as video clips or games, and play music. The resolution of a cell phone camera also is checked.

It's a far cry from when people just used a wireless phone to make a telephone call. Back in 2000, text messaging wasn't nearly as popular as it is today, Lynch said.

Rooms look like vaults

Many of the lab rooms re semble vaults and are lined with metal to keep unwanted signals out and test signals in.

In one laboratory, engineers have placed a lifelike mannequin head and torso, known as "Mr. Head," in a soundproof booth. It is outfitted with $5,000 ears that funnel sound, just as human ears do, to test handset microphone volume and clarity.

Another series of tests determines a phone's ability to find the network when it is turned on. A phone must connect to Verizon's network or one belonging to roaming partners.

"We sell them (customers) a nationwide one-rate plan," LaMedica said. "We have to be able to prove that it works."

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