SILVER SPRING, MD. — Wireless customers all want one thing: clear service and good coverage, regardless of the routes they travel - along the Beltway, through tunnels, in the city, at the beach, in the Metro, and around the hilly terrain of the MidAtlantic. In this fiercely competitive market, with five wireless companies constantly striving to win new customers, the hottest prices may be important, but savvy consumers increasingly demand high quality for their calls. That's why Bell Atlantic Mobile has rolled out its secret weapon in the battle for wireless network superiority in the Washington/Baltimore area.
It's a souped-up station wagon, loaded with $250,000 worth of sophisticated equipment, traveling the region to objectively measure the service quality of all competing analog and digitalwireless providers. Simply put, it's quality assurance on wheels.
Bell Atlantic Mobile's drive-testing station wagon is on the road traversing the region, logging 2000 miles each month. The test vehicle collects data on call completion and call quality for all wireless providers in the area. Drive tests are conducted by Bell Atlantic Mobile to stay ahead of the competition.
Bell Atlantic Mobile will invest more than $750 million in its network company-wide this year. Based on the data gathered in drive tests, many recent network enhancements have been made throughout the Washington/Baltimore region, including increasing call capacity, coverage and data services.
"Network reliability is at the core of wireless service and the most important thing to customers," said Gary Schulman, regional president for Bell Atlantic Mobile in Washington/Baltimore. "But attractive pricing and high-tech phones are only as good as the network that delivers the service, and we must keep up with growing customer demand. We're seeing an amazing increase in digital traffic on our Washington/Baltimore network every week."
With five different competitors operating on four different technological platforms, measuring the reliability of each network -- fairly and consistently -- is no small task. In fact, the computerized monitoring equipment and software that allow network engineers to simultaneously compare all networks has only recently become available.
As a Bell Atlantic Mobile engineer steers the way along the region's busiest roadways, an array of portable wireless phones chirp with pre-recorded voices and computer equipment drones on in the cargo area of a stealth-like station wagon. Each month, thousands of wireless calls are continuously dialed from the car, recorded and stored for analysis. The tests determine if a call goes through on the first attempt, if a call is dropped, and the sound quality of connections.
Protruding from the car's roof, like quills on a porcupine, are 15 antennas strategically located to give each wireless phone inside the car an equal chance of picking up the signal from the service provider it monitors.
Schulman said monitoring the performance of the company's network using the new equipment challenges Bell Atlantic Mobile to exceed its own benchmarks and strive be the best wireless service provider in the area.
"At Bell Atlantic Mobile, our number one goal is customer satisfaction," Schulman said. "That means providing customers with a network that allows them to connect and complete their calls when and where they want.
"With that in mind, our strategy is two-fold. We will continue to invest in and enhance the performance of our network and, secondly, continue to focus on providing outstanding local customer service with the goal of once again winning the J.D. Power and Associates Award for overall customer satisfaction," Schulman concluded. "The customer, not the equipment, is the ultimate judge."
Bell Atlantic Mobile owns and operates the largest wireless network in the East and systems in the Southwest, covering 180,000 square miles, and the largest chain of retail outlets devoted exclusively to wireless voice, data and paging. Based in Bedminster, NJ, Bell Atlantic Mobile has 6.6 million customers and 8,000 employees from Maine to Georgia and in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas. Through its "Wireless at Work…" community service program, the company uses its technology to help individuals and communities improve security and emergency communications. Bell Atlantic Mobile's parent, Bell Atlantic Corporation (NYSE:BEL) is one of the world's largest wireless communications companies, with domestic operations in 25 states and international investments in Mexico, Europe and the Pacific Rim. For more information on Bell Atlantic Mobile visit: www.bam.com; on global operations visit: www.bellatlantic.com/worldwide.