Can You Hear Me Now?

Imagine chatting with friends at a party. More guests arrive. The room gets too noisy. The host opens a few doors, and the overflow crowd spills out onto the patio, restoring the noise to a more comfortable level.

Verizon Wireless says it accomplished a similar feat when it recently expanded its network in Cooksville and Woodbine, increasing by more than 25 percent the number of calls it can handle in those areas, particularly along busy routes such as Frederick and Watersville roads.

"A network can only handle so much capacity when lots of cell phone users are on the phone using more and more minutes," said Sherri Cummingham, a company spokesman. "You have to make sure you stay ahead of demand. Otherwise, only so many calls can go through and callers get a fast busy signal" when they dial out.

Verizon Wireless, which has its customer service headquarters in Laurel, has been spending more than $1 billion every 90 days to extend its network nationwide. In the Washington region alone, it spent $260 million last year and expects to spend at least that much this year, Cummingham said.

The company determines where to expand its capacity in part by using the real-life counterpart of the "Can you hear me now?" guy on its advertisements. A baseline performance engineer drives around in an SUV loaded with equipment and cell phones, dialing out about every 2.5 minutes to test connection time and quality in various areas.

What's Brewing

The Riverside Coffee Shop has changed owners and names.

Michael Lentz, the original owner of the four-store chain, sold each of the high-end coffee shops to different buyers before moving to North Carolina, said Bonita Glaser, the exhibit curator who handled the art displays at his shop in Columbia, in the lobby of the American City Building.

Glaser does the same for the new owners of that store, now called Lakeside Coffee & Cafe. Ho and Yong Kang of Perry Hall, Md., made a few changes to the menu and the hours of their store. The additions to the signature sandwiches, tea and coffee include wraps and panini. Store hours have been extended for the summer.

The couple will continue displaying artwork. Now on display: the work of Ann Schluederberg, founding member of the Columbia Orchestra and the Artists' Gallery.

-- DINA ELBOGHDADY

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