But They Never Say 'Can You Hear Me Now?'

But they never say 'Can you hear me now?' Cellphone firms say tests ensure quality, data remain private

By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff | December 25, 2006

WESTBOROUGH -- In real life, the "Can you hear me now?" guy never actually utters the catchphrase.

Instead, Verizon Wireless engineer Marc Lefevre logs 3,000 miles a month on New England highways while an arsenal of phones in the backseat makes calls, playing recordings of phrases like, "These days a chicken leg is a rare dish," while the computer on the other end of the line analyzes audio quality.

All of the major cellphone carriers use drive tests to find dead zones, map signal strength, and count dropped calls. And all claim to offer superior service. Verizon Wireless boasts "the most reliable wireless network," Cingular Wireless claims "the fewest dropped calls," and the Sprint Nextel network calls itself "the nation's most powerful network."

But the copious data gathered by the companies is not available to consumers, and advertising claims based on studies by third parties have led to contentious legal battles. Last week, state Senator Michael W. Morrissey, a Boston Democrat, began a push for more transparency.

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