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Bushey is one of five drivers in New England, part of a team of 95 nationwide, who gather on the ground information for Verizon Wireless, data used by the company to make decisions about upgrades, expansion and repairs to its cell phone network.

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They are the real face of Test Guy, he of the geeky spectacles and unavoidable catchphrase.

It seems ironic that in an era when satellites can photograph our yards and send video around the globe, cell phone companies can't somehow check their billion dollar businesses from orbit.

Verizon Wireless has largely dropped that advertising approach and is spending billions to create the wireless network known loosely as 4G in which voice calls are barely an afterthought, but drivers like Bushey are still performing the automated equivalent of "Can you hear me now?" They remain a key to the company in times both good and bad.

is driving," he said. "A lot of it is doing spreadsheets, charts post processing."

All the major cell phone companies are bringing out variations of 4G, but none is here yet.

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Verizon Wireless just this month started rolling out its version of 4G in the Boston metropolitan area and says the service will exist throughout the country by 2013. But the company won't yet give any specifics about its arrival date in southern New Hampshire.

information as well as data about signal quality of major competitors. A good chunk of Bushey's day involves turning all these numbers into grist for the corporate Prada Fanny Pack Nylon planning mill.

Its current digital network is built on a technology called CDMA that doesn't lead to so called Long Term Evolution. By contrast, AT currently uses a different technology called GSM, which does transition to LTE.

The Tahoe carries eight extra antennas on top, although their nubby design makes them look like the foundation for some weird roof rack rather than a radio antenna, to collect this Prada Bag With Gold Chain

To get the obvious question out of the way right off the bat: As he drives 50,000 miles a year throughout northern New England testing Verizon Wireless' signal, Rodney Bushey never, ever says "Can you hear me now?" And he'd prefer that you don't, either.

"During the floods in Rhode Island, all our drivers went down there. They were driving through the water, testing the network, finding any problems," said Richard Enright, director of engineering for New England for Verizon Wireless.

Bushey, like just about any cell phone employee, hears about spotty coverage from friends and strangers. He tells of one customer who could see a cell phone antenna but couldn't get a signal; the problem was, Bushey said, that her home was against a tall rock cliff, and the signal had to be aimed over the cliff and therefore over the house or it would have been blocked.

the bandwidth needed for LTE so it wants to start drawing revenue from it as soon as possible.

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"It's not so bad, now that we're changing the ads, but the first year on the job, I was getting really sick of hearing that," said Bushey, an associate engineer for the company.

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That's the exception, however. The main task of people like Bushey, who lives north of Burlington, Vt., and regularly travels as far south as Nashua and as far east as the New Brunswick border with Maine, is to determine how the network is working when life is normal.

"They pretty much replicate the customer experience," said Enright.

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Listen to Verizon Wireless' real Test Guy now

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To further complicate things, Sprint, via its Clearwire subsidiary, is using a different 4G network entirely, called Wi Max. Clearwire is looking to build towers in the region to spread Wi Max here.

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The term 4G, short for "fourth generation," is used to describe IP based wireless technologies that promise much faster and more robust signals. These will, at least in theory, support such things as high definition video streaming to a laptop, massive database transfers to a smartphone, plus all the text messages and YouTube uploads that a hyperactive teen can generate, furthering the industry's transition from land line phones and computers that plug into the wall.

Verizon Wireless isn't alone in this, of course. All of the "big four" cell phone companies including AT Sprint and T Mobile as well as many smaller firms have similar operations, and there are also third party companies that will do independent drive tests, either to double check company results or to fill in coverage holes.

Verizon Wireless' upgrade to 4G is more complicated than that of its major competitors because it built an entirely new system to handle its 4G technology, which carries the clumsy name Long Term Evolution or LTE.

But as everybody who uses a cell phone knows, coverage can be spotty even in places that seem to be blanketed by signals, and no technology exists to spot those holes except to go where they exist and do some measuring.

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