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Inside the laboratory where Verizon torture tests smartphones

An hour outside of NYC, Verizon runs devices through the gauntlet

Wireless carriers in the United States remain entrenched in a never-ending battle over which company has the "best" network. Which is fastest? Which offers the most coverage and is most reliable? Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint all take turns claiming supremacy in their TV and web ads. Verizon's latest campaign has a rather simple tagline: "better matters." It sticks to the long-running perception that Verizon has the best mobile network in the US — even if its rivals would object.

To reinforce that strong reputation, Verizon recently invited press to its device test lab in Bedminster, New Jersey. The building was once home to Verizon's main headquarters, which is now a few miles down the road in Basking Ridge. So this office space has been repurposed to run through over a dozen critical tests that devices (smartphones, tablets, IoT gadgets, etc.) must pass before being allowed to run on Verizon's network.

Some are the type you'd expect; Verizon's engineers are obsessed with network performance, so they stuff devices into a big metal box to prevent any outside interference and gauge pure data reception, VoLTE call quality, noise cancellation, and so on. The rooms themselves are shielded from wireless signals, allowing Verizon to emulate its 2G, 3G, and LTE networks on actual hardware — without letting those devices onto the same network customers are using. Another test room deals with emergency services and ensuring that all devices exceed requirements for putting you in touch with 911. Next to these vault-like labs are plenty of cubicles and your everyday office meeting rooms, so there are signs on the outside that flash red when a live test is being conducted.

Of course, device manufacturers carry out plenty of these tests themselves; Verizon's engineers said it's "rare" for a product to flunk once it's at the network certification stage, and they're usually around "95 percent" there by the time they get to this important step. But that doesn't prevent the carrier from doing its own endurance testing, like dropping phones on the ground repeatedly, or zapping batteries to make sure they're compliant and won't blow up in your jeans.

I don't want to make Verizon sound too special here; its main US rivals all certainly have testing labs of their own, with similarly high standards for smartphones and other devices to meet. But there are definitely some hard working people trying to make your phone work the best that it can. If you've ever wondered what that looks like at the largest US carrier, let's take a tour.

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