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Verizon's 'Can You Hear Me Now' Fleet Testing 4G 81

Posted by samzenpus
from the wardriving-for-the-man dept.
itwbennett writes "On the sidelines of the CTIA trade show in San Diego last week, Verizon showed off one of its test vehicles, a Chevy Tahoe equipped with a variety of phones and mobile data devices. The devices make voice and data calls over the air and are wired up to testing equipment in the back of the truck. The carrier has about 100 such vehicles around the U.S., and testers drive about 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) per year while conducting ongoing network tests, said Tom Badger, director of network system performance. One thing Verizon doesn't use: the well-known phrase from its TV commercials."
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Verizon's 'Can You Hear Me Now' Fleet Testing 4G

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  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Monday October 17, 2011 @10:47AM (#37739948)
    While this is all well and good, I'm surprised they can't get this data from the handsets themselves - Dropped calls / choppy calls / slow-loading pages, low-bandwidth connections - I'm surprised their own network monitoring systems can't provide this data without have to drive millions of miles.
    • by Splab (574204) on Monday October 17, 2011 @10:57AM (#37740108)

      GSM towers will report unexpected drops of calls and various metrics for the quality, however, in my experience, users will often report a subjective version of this which can often be quite skewed. By using actual equipment in the field you will be able to find gray spots (and black spots) in your setup and you will be more able in finding issues with call transfers between cells etc. - and those can often be linked with user complaints (and yes, the call will have some information about users whereabouts in the time of the call, it is however very unreliable for detecting gray/black spots).

      • When OP said "get this data from the handsets themselves", I believe he meant via software that would measure, record, and upload the metrics, not from people. People are unreliable. Software is less so.

        • by Splab (574204)

          Well that they definitely can't do.

          • On smartphones, yes, they can if users consent and let the app run (or its built into the OS, perhaps in iOS or a locked down Android version like on AT&T).

            • by Splab (574204)

              that is a lot of ifs, and even then depending on your whereabout (yes this story is from the great ol US, where it probably is legal) it will illegal to track - the database containing information about a user tracked from the towers at the telecoms I used to work for was only accessible by one person and he was only ever allowed to look at that data when police asked for it. Privacy is a big deal in most places, and the ability to determine if person A was in a specific area at a specific time is very much

    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's not that simple. There's all sorts of environment and hardware conditions that affect call quality. Go and read up on the topic. Things like buildings, weather, line of sight, channel, noise and speed all affect call quality. A plain old phone isn't going to tell you how the network performs in the real world until you drive around and measure it. Even then you have to do it with multiple phones simulating different kinds of data to see what really happens.
      • by Jake73 (306340) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:07AM (#37740256) Homepage

        I think what the O.P. meant was that the handsets (millions of them) could be providing this feedback at all times with just small ancillary data on the uplink. Things like SNR, error rates, etc, could be reported in real-time at all times or selectively enabled by the towers when segments are being measured. This would composite all sorts of users, all sorts of chipsets, photes, locations, etc. With location services enabled, the phones can tell the towers where they are when these measurements come through.

        Throw it all up on a fancy visualization and you can get a lot of information over different times of day, weather conditions, etc. No need for a bunch of trucks. Sure, the trucks can provide more information with better measurement equipment. But in many cases, lots of cheap devices can produce better data and fewer expensive devices as long as the proper statistical processing is applied.

        • No, this is Verizon. The only information they collect is the data they sell to advertisers [theregister.co.uk] unless you opt out.

          No surprise that Slashdot hasn't gotten a story about that yet, since editors tend to play favorites. I know I don't bother to submit stories any more because of that.

        • One huge advantage I can see to this is precise location data. While cheap handsets can have their locations approximated, and more expensive ones know their exact locations (assuming satellite LOS), the first is only an approximation and the second is not readily available to the carriers. The trucks are no doubt equipped with GPS, and higher end tower triangulation equipment so they always know precisely where they are. Another advantage would be the capability to measure signals through non-handset equ

          • Almost all handsets are sending signal quality data back to the tower; this is how the tower and the device decide how much power each should be using to transmit (note that your cellphone will use more power when there is no signal available; it is yelling asking if someone is around, and uses more power to do so, whereas it'll use *much* less power compared to when it can easily and reliably hear the tower, and the tower can hear it).

            Location data? That's a bit more difficult without smartphones or phones

        • by Dunega (901960)
          Yea and if they did that, everyone on here would have a stroke that they were collecting data from their phone. Really wouldn't matter if they asked first or not.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Conspiracy theory: It's much better publicity for Verizon to pretend to actively monitor their network signals with fancy trucks than letting their customers know that they're snooping the customer base without their consent.

      Monitoring handsets with customer consent could be a good idea!

      Verizon can sell a standardized GPS-enabled phone to their customers (like CDMA GarminPhone?) and send out random coordinates on a regular basis for customers to cash in "signal points". The first person to run the special

      • It's much cheaper than a fleet of employees and trucks.

        With probably tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of points being needed to be monitored annually, I seriously doubt that. The admin costs alone are going to mount pretty quickly, as will the costs of advertising the program, etc... etc...

        If someone is frustrated about signal problems, they can run the app at any time to automatically report a problem (no points). After a while, when the unsolicited points in an area add up, it should show up o

    • I'm surprised their own network monitoring systems can't provide this data without have to drive millions of miles.

      They must be doing this for the majority of their monitoring. A million miles a year is only a quarter of the US roads, assuming a perfect 'traveling network tech' route. I bet they don't even yield 2/3 of that in real coverage, which would net them a once every seven years coverage for a given piece of road. Probably once a decade for the real leaf-node roads.

      I'm surprised they don't pay on

    • A few years back I actually worked with a group inside one of the big wireless companies that did this. It got adopted in at least one handset, but as I see it there are a few reasons why it doesn't happen in all handsets:

      A) It takes some processing power (not an issue on a smartphone, but on some weaker handsets, it is).
      B) There are some serious networking challenges with getting it to work right and not hammering your network, and let's face it: there's already a shortage of good network engineers at t
    • While this is all well and good, I'm surprised they can't get this data from the handsets themselves - Dropped calls / choppy calls / slow-loading pages, low-bandwidth connections

      That depends on having handsets available in the area to monitor, and on being able to retrieve stored data from the handsets, and on normalizing the data from a zillion different handsets to allow for analysis. Even if all the handset manufacturers equipped their phones with proper monitoring hardware/[firm|soft]ware and agreed o

  • by quangdog (1002624) <quangdog@@@gmail...com> on Monday October 17, 2011 @10:47AM (#37739950)
    Pfffffttt..... surely there are more interesting and useful things we can do with 100 Tahoes. How about welding 6 of them together side by side to form a solid wall of Tahoe, then deploy them on 6 lane freeways. People who refuse to travel at least at the speed limit will be run over by the wall of Tahoe - thus eliminating gridlock.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      somebody had a rough drive in this morning.

    • After my drive in this morning, with someone doing 60 in the left most lane, I suggest you start a kickstarter project. Top contributor should get to drive said wall of Tahoe *gets credit card out*

    • by evilviper (135110)

      People who refuse to travel at least at the speed limit will be run over by the wall of Tahoe - thus eliminating gridlock.

      I have no problem with people driving below the speed limit, and neither should any decent drivers. The only problem is that they should strictly STAY RIGHT. No, the fact that you feel like driving 1/4 of a MPH faster than the guy in front of you is NOT a reason to get out of the slow lane and block 100 cars that want to go much faster than you. And no, that fact that there's less t

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Monday October 17, 2011 @10:47AM (#37739954) Homepage

    I'll feed them if they come to my house and my work. Test my area please!

    We had a technician install Verizon FiOS at our house last week, and he called me at work to ask me where we wanted the wireless router. Unfortunately, we couldn't hear each other because we both have Verizon wireless and my home has terrible coverage. If they can't install their own services because their own infrastructure doesn't work, then they should report that feedback too.

    • by Pieroxy (222434)

      This is pathetic, you are correct. With that many million users, why do they need this kind of crap. Here is an idea:

      Provide an iPhone/Android app for free that make testing and report its findings (GSM/Reception points). People where coverage sucks will install it and you'll get reports. People that doesn't want to install it, it must be good enough coverage. But I'm sure you'll get a sufficiently dense map of your weak spots, for free, with no hassle.

      Better, when people call to report bad coverage propose

      • AT&T has an app like that called "Mark the Spot" (or something like that). I've put in dozens of reports (as have other people I know) from a highly developed part of my city that has terrible reception (-90 to -100 outside my house, -100+ inside the house, occasionally lose service in the middle of the house). Result over the last 3 years--nil.

        • by Pieroxy (222434)

          The article talks about reporting coverage, not taking action on said report ;-)

          • Yup, it's the equivalent of the "close doors" button on many elevators. It's just there to make people feel better.

            • by Anonymous Coward
              Actually, the close doors button is for closing the doors when the elevator is in manual or fire mode. Situations such as moving furniture or doing maintenance, where finer control of the elevator is required. It never has (and likely never will) do anything when elevators are in automatic mode, which they are 99.999% of the time. While we're on the subject, the "push to walk" button isn't supposed to automatically change the cross-traffic to red and give you a walk signal. Instead, it just turns on the
        • by MobyDisk (75490)

          I have Verizon now because AT&T had no service at my home or at my work (but it was *great* everywhere in between). A few times I decided to go into a store and tell them where I had no service. They didn't even ask me where it was, instead they tried to sell me a microcell. So I gave them my home address and asked if there was a coverage map they could look at. They reluctantly did so, then told me I should have service there. They asked about what my home was made from, even after telling them I

          • Yeah, I haven't even bothered to complain as I figured their response to you would be typical... If we do decide to re-up with AT&T, I figure I'll try to get a free microcell out of it. Seems crazy that they want to SELL you something so that you can use your own Internet service to get the bare minimum service level from them.

            • by MobyDisk (75490)

              I am amazed at this point too! They charge me a fee to provide service, then when the service is bad, they want to charge me another fee for me to provide the service myself! To top it off: the phone has WiFi ability in it already, if you are going to use my internet for service, just use the WiFi router I already have.

          • "It makes me wonder: if that employee's GPS told them to drive over a bridge, but they saw no actual bridge there, would they try it anyway because that is what the computer says?"

            There are plenty of morons who would do just that. (and have!)

            http://www.geek.com/articles/gadgets/gps-unit-drives-british-man-off-cliff-20090327/ [geek.com]

            http://gothamist.com/2011/05/22/gps_drives_jersey_man_off_road_and.php [gothamist.com]

        • Oh, I found the problem. The database was set to write-only!

    • by Larryish (1215510)

      What they don't tell you:

      The trucks are really semi-trailers and each contains an entire Indian call center.

      "Kahn Yo Heed Mee Nahw?"

  • by Anonymous Coward
    All of the phone manufacturers have vehicles like that. Back when I worked in the mobile industry, we had a van fully equipped with all sorts of gear for measuring, recording and testing the network. It would do more than just measure signal quality. It would try to simulate a variety of conditions to see how hand-off worked. Early versions of CDMA would end up dropping your call even if you had all bars. Turns out the signal was strong to multiple towers and both ended up dropping the phone. There's all s
  • Does Verizon wanted data or advertising. One could get a lot more data from a simple cheap monitoring device(like the USB computer). Pick a phone with a GPS and a signal strength output. You might need to hack the phone to get your outputs. Then program the device to make calls and record the signal strength and location over time. Results out of standards can be texted back to a central monitoring sight using the same phone when it's back in an area with phone service.

    Now that you have a cheap set up,
    • First of all, signal strength is only one of many factors they care to measure. In addition the numerous variables that affect any NLOS radio system, LTE adds MIMO techniques, which means you also have to care about the spatial correlation in your multi-antenna set up and how it varies with other conditions and your location. Also, MIMO relies on some rather sophisticated digital signal processing, and the implementation of this processing is left up to the individual device manufacturer and thus its perfor

  • So, what is the point of this???? It is illegal to use cell phones while driving in a whole bunch of places, and the list is growing all the time. I need coverage in my home, client's offices, tall buildings with offices not near windows, airports, city parks, restaurants, etc. Not my car. So what is the big deal with focusing so much testing doing something that is both dangerous and potentially illegal???

    • by vlm (69642)

      Bus / mass transit riders? When my family goes on a car family trip, its not unusual at all for my wife to call for directions / hours / vacancies / reservations from the passenger seat while driving.

      All the places you list are accessible by car, or within 50 feet of the road, anyway, or else no one would ever go there. To a first approximation if you drive a circle around a park, and there is no tower inside the circle, all spots in the park will have better reception than the lowest spot on the perimete

    • by heypete (60671)

      The phones are connected to automatic equipment that makes the calls, measures the various properties, etc. The driver is not placing the calls.

      • by heypete (60671)

        Ah, pardon me. I misunderstood -- I thought moehoward was implying that the driver of the test vehicle would be placing the calls. Mea culpa.

        That said, I agree that buildings (specifically their interior) should have better coverage.

        Here in Switzerland, several of the mobile networks categorize their coverage as "GSM/2G", "UMTS/HSPA (Outdoors)", and "UMTS/HSPA (Indoors)" and have appropriately-shaded regions on their coverage maps. Quite handy, but I wish they'd also have a "GSM/2G (Indoors)" option. Oh wel

    • NOWHERE in the US is it illegal to use your cellphone while driving. It is illegal to have it in your hand in some places, but not illegal to use while driving.
      • by moehoward (668736)

        Well, nobody uses their Bluetooth headsets or hands-free mode. So, your point is moot.

        But, it is a fact that you can be ticketed for using your phone in hands-free mode. You also can be held responsible for using your phone in hands-free mode if you are in an accident. Distracted driving is an offense in many/most places in the US/world. Even in Chicago, IL, US, it is illegal to use your phone while biking. There is a proposal in Chicago to ban using your phone while walking.

        FYI - My car has been hit twice

        • They were fined not for the cell phone use, but the fact that it was labeled as a root cause of the accident, of which almost any human action can be applied. Mascara applying, changing underwear all would be the same thing. Cell phone laws generally are for simple act of holding the phone while driving, its quite distinct to being cited for distracted driving. One is a label of fault, the other a pre-crime.

          Im not saying that we should be able to carry on willy-nilly in a car, but i am quite capable of c
    • In addition to the all the other, rather obvious, answers others have given to your question (things like mass transit, passengers using phones, hands free devices...), there's also the detail where most roads are immediately adjacent to well... sidewalks, buildings, cafes, etc. If the truck detects a good signal on the road, chances are good that building situated on that road also have good signals. If the truck detect poor or mediocre signal on the road chances are it's even worse in nearby buildings.

  • In fact, pitifully incompetent. There's no need to spend so much on vehicles and wages, if you have a bit of imagination. I was recently working for GlobalMobilePhoneProvider, who also sell M2M (machine-to-machine) applications. They gave away data mobile units to the company that collects garbage, and fitted them to the garbage trucks. Guess what? Those guys visit every premises. And collect signal strength data. And they collect signal strength not only of GMPP's network, but al the competitors too. What'
    • That's all fine and dandy, but that's not going to help in the locations where there are no garbage collection customers!

      Open highways, outlying rural areas, etc, etc.
    • by Desler (1608317)

      You so realize that the cost of this is probably a tiny fraction of 1% if their yearly revenue, right? Even if this cost them $500 million a year (most likely a magnitude or more higher than it actually costs them) it would only represent 1.8% of their yearly revenue.

  • At least one other instance of this sort of testing has been shown to customers before. Years ago there was a TV show showcasing how cell companies tested not only their networks, but their competitor's as well. The test vehicle was a station wagon loaded to capacity with testing equipment and antennas.

    You can't test your system using wired methods; running a $100 billion dollar annual revenue company, one might say 100 such vehicles (2 per state! have you seen how big Texas, California and Alaska are?) is

  • The Tahoe LS (2WD) gets 15MPG, slightly more when you're cruising at highway speeds (because you're going faster, covering more miles) 1million miles/15 miles per gallon = 66666 Gallons of fuel (rounding off that last 0.7 gallon) 66666 is the postal code of the beast! And that's quit a lot of fuel.
    • by iamhassi (659463)
      That's what I was thinking, a large SUV to test cellphones? But you have to consider:
      --they're trying to buy American
      --they're buying fleet vehicles since they need 100 of them
      BR> That limits the number of vehicles to purchase significantly. Can't get a Prius because it's foreign, and they probably do want something large enough for 4 people, and they probably don't want the cellphones to be blocking a rear window so sedans are out. Minivans and SUVs are all that's left, and I don't know of any min
    • 1million miles/15 miles per gallon = 66666 Gallons of fuel (rounding off that last 0.7 gallon) 66666 is the postal code of the beast! And that's quit a lot of fuel.

      It's $200K or so per year. Verizon's coffee budget is likely an order of magnitude or two larger than that.

  • I am mostly cutting and pasting from a reply to a post I made earlier in this thread, but signal strength is only one of many factors they care to measure. In addition the numerous variables that affect any NLOS radio system, LTE adds MIMO techniques, which means you also have to care about the spatial correlation in your multi-antenna set up and how it varies with other conditions and your location. Also, MIMO relies on some rather sophisticated digital signal processing, and the implementation of this pr

  • This explains a lot. A Tahoe simply won't fit in my apt, in my cube, on my train to work, or anywhere else I need a signal.

  • Verizon better be careful with testing it's mobile data or they might come back to find thousand $ mobile data bills at their desk when they are done...

  • The US Postal service should be offering their trucks to house this equipment for a fee. No other service travels to more parts of the country more regularly. Certainly piggybacking onto postal trucks would save Verizon (and ATT, Sprint, T-mob) money and give them better testing coverage.

    It would also help fund the Postal service which is billions in the hole.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SkeGC-5gXQ

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