Is The Good Old Pager Coming Down To Its Final Beeps?

from the out-to-pasture dept

It's been nearly five years since we reported that some people were still clinging tightly to their pagers, despite their obsolescence in many ways thanks to the mobile phone. Few companies still actually make the devices, and with so few users -- just 7.4 million nationwide -- once-thriving pager-repair businesses are now dwindling as well. That's hardly surprising; what is a little, though, is that pagers have continued to hang on. Their real strength is in the medical market, where doctors and hospitals still rely on them because they more reliably penetrate buildings, and they can be used in areas where cell phones are banned due to concerns they'll interfere with medical equipment (or interfere with hospitals' revenue from high-price in-room telephones for patients). But the days of the venerable pager look numbered: hospitals' attitudes about cell phone use are starting to shift, while many are installing WiFi-based systems that offer far greater functionality than simple paging.
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  1. identicon
    Brad Waddell, 27 Dec 2006 @ 3:18pm


    there is no question pagers have many benefits, the main one in my mind was battery life - how many of you have a cell phone that runs for 3 months on a single AA battery? Although occasionally I missed a page, I never had one delayed, and text messages on cell phones can be delayed for days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2006 @ 3:24pm

    As a Regional Medical Director for central/west Florida I can guarantee that we won't be getting rid of the pagers anytime soon. Blackberry, cellphones and WiFi are useful, but no-where near as reliable or cheap as a pager.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Tyshaun, 27 Dec 2006 @ 3:35pm

    still a couple of niche markets...

    One area pager-like devices is still used is in public safety, especially in volunteer based departments. I'm a volunteer EMT and we still have pagers and no plans to change. They are cheap, very reliable, work almost everywhere, and since the information flow needed is all one way (it is how calls are dispatched), there's no need to move to a more sophisticated system.

    As a general point I don't think the shift to consolidating communications to a single platform (primarily cell phones) is a good one just because you have no redudancy if/when there is tower damage and other disasters. I was on an ambulance in Manhattan on 9/11 and the thing that allowed us to maintain at least one way communications with our dispatch was the pager system. A lot of the cell tower support for lower Manhattan was sitting near or on the towers. In some instances, having a mix of communication outlets, some old and some new, is vital to maintain reliable communications for "can't fail" systems (like public safety).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    The Man, 27 Dec 2006 @ 3:58pm

    Pagers Rock

    I am not sure about what technology pagers used, but I remember reciving pages in the basement level of a 10 story parking garage. I have to stand on one foot, face east, and pray to get my Cell to make a call when I am standing directly under my carriers tower. If they could get the pager signal to carry voice, Cell phones my be worth a damn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    John, 27 Dec 2006 @ 4:17pm

    At my work.

    I work at a casino and it is very effective there becuase it would be rude for a supervisor to answer a phone if it went off, however a page is a lot less intrusive.

    They don't break, they don't die, and they do the job. Its like saying some day pens and pencils will be no more.

    Until cell phones can be thrown at the ground without breaking, hold a three month carge and are so cheap that there would be no reason to steal it... pagers are here to stay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    RES, 27 Dec 2006 @ 4:24pm

    Other uses for pagers, and pager systems

    I have noticed that Alarm Monitoring companies have begun using the pagers operating freq to alert them to breakin's and the like. They do this because professionals cut the phone/power lines, so this allows them to know when an alarm event is occuring using only a set of AA batteries that last over 3 months.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2006 @ 4:37pm


    You need to go back to school, and enroll yourself in English.

    It read like a book report from a child who plagiarized the whole thing, and added some minor touches which throw it off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Kyros, 27 Dec 2006 @ 4:51pm

    Pagers without doubt have uses. Their simplicity and foolproofness is what gives them their use. In a one way information chain, they're invaluable. I would think they might also be useful as a trigger for bombs.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Dam, 27 Dec 2006 @ 5:45pm

    And They Pay You For Finding Them

    Riding my bicycle one Sunday morning near a medical office, I happen to see a pager smack dab in the middle of an intersection. I stopped and picked up the then fairly new item and put it in my pack. When I got it home I dismantled it, like a good geek, and noticed a message with a phone number to call if found. I made the call, the company sent me a prepaid shipping box. About fifteen days later, I got a check for ten bucks!

    I just hoped the doctor that left it on the roof of his car wasn't ever going to be MY surgeon.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Rob, 27 Dec 2006 @ 6:21pm

    Pagers are more reliable

    Our IT department uses a pager for a number reasons;

    - Easy to pass around between a group of people who each take a week with the pager
    - More reliable then SMS (sometimes I've seen SMS messages take an hour to deliver)
    - Less intrusive to the person carrying the pager. (I've got a page 10 minutes from home and simply waited till I got home, where I have my laptop and wifi, to call the person back )
    - better coverage area. My pager works at my parents home, where by Rogers Blackberry gets some service in one room and none in the other.

    I doubt we would move away from pagers unless we were forced to. We MIGHT then switch to a rotation with a small, standard cell phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    JackOfHearts, 27 Dec 2006 @ 7:28pm


    Not only are you posting anonymously, but not a single sentence of your post is grammatically correct. If you're going to be the sort of waste of space douchebag that suggests another person attend English classes, I recommend that you pick up a few yourself before posting again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Kevin, 27 Dec 2006 @ 9:33pm

    Re: Pagers are more reliable

    We used to have "pager duty" rotation in my group, then about six years ago we switched to a 2-way pager because the monthly fee was cheaper, and you could send a simple response message back to the sender to ACK new requests or let them know you are an hour from the nearest PC and they'd better call somebody else.

    Then about a year ago we replaced the pager with a blackberry. Same idea, but you can compose more detailed responses (like "It does this all the time, just hit reboot and then call me if it doesn't come back up").

    Drawback is that the blackberry is MUCH less reliable than the 2-way pager. Coverage for GPRS service is not nearly as good, lots of dead zones that never bothered the pager.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Shane C, 28 Dec 2006 @ 12:07am

    Pager systems will be lost to attrition.

    I work in a building that houses classified material. When people are in the classified areas, two-way wireless communication (i.e. a cell phone) is prohibited. We rely on pagers to fill that gap, in our communication line.

    Prior to this job, I worked for a major hospital. Because the paging services couldn’t guarantee timely delivery, and couldn’t provide logs, they invested in their own pager network. One central signal, and three repeaters cover most of the hills, and valleys in the region.

    On the flip side…

    As the number of pagers in use continues to diminish, it’s a natural presumption that pager networks will start to shutdown from simple attrition. It’s not cost effective to upkeep maintenance on the local repeater, and telephone network, not to mention taking up valuable space on the antenna mast.

    I think we’ll see is a new form of pager emerging in the next few years. The pager will basically be a stripped down, one-way cell phone, for all intents, and purposes. This will enable them to run off a combination of analog, and digital networks. There is a fair amount of analog cellular signals available in most populous areas, that aren’t being used heavily because the digital counterparts are more effective.

    The reason I’m leaning towards analog cellular signals being in the mix is that they tend to pass deeper into heavy construction, versus the digital signals.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Tom, 28 Dec 2006 @ 5:15am

    They work in a timely manner

    When I was at an ISP, we had pagers. We could opt for a two way also.

    One person could not receive the two way pagers so he had to use a one way.

    Cell phones? How about 24 hour delays in delivery? We had a 15 minute response window. Missed calls got escalated up the management chain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    B_Billy, 28 Dec 2006 @ 9:49am

    If it ain't broke...

    ...don't fix it!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Dec 2006 @ 10:49am

    Me a drug dealer. I fo sure an't gett'in rid of my beeper. It look cool and old scool...know what i'm saying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Frank The Tank, 28 Dec 2006 @ 11:34am

    24 to 48hrs delay for a txt dellivery??? what are you talking about? my sister and i txt people all the time, not once has a message taken longer than 5 seconds to appear and no more than a minute to get a response.

    how can you get such a long delay? what provider are you using?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    lil'bit, 29 Dec 2006 @ 6:51pm


    That's precisely the problem, Frank the Tank. Service varies depending on carrier, phone manufacturer - too many variables!

    I have had messages not be delivered/received at all or hours and hours later - usually when txting between carriers. My sister and I text eaxh other frequently with no problems, but we are both using the same provider AND phones made by the same manufacturer. If messages didn't go through under those circumstances - well, that would be too ridiculous to contemplate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    putto, 11 Sep 2007 @ 6:09pm

    i suck

    pagers suck use phones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    PRS, 8 Nov 2007 @ 10:08am

    Pagers are still reliable

    I can't imagine a world without pagers. I am on call for a technical center, and cell phones have horrible coverage in some of the canyons and mountain areas I go when camping out on weekends. Never missed a page yet, even when my cell phone hasn't seen a single signal bar all weekend. I have tried Verizon and AT&T networks (the two biggies around here), neither offers the coverage of the pager.

    What worries me is if enough people get rid of their pagers that the paging carrier begins to dismantle the system to save money and reduces coverage. So far, that has not happened, but I fear it might someday. Then, I'm hosed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Crosley, 20 Apr 2008 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Pagers are still reliable

    It has already started. USA Mobility has begun dismantling their network. I used to have 3 paging transmitters at one of my shops in CA, and they pulled them all out. They said it was to try and save money. So now, I have NO coverage at my shop or any of the surrounding areas! Also, my USA Mobility (used to be Metrocall) pager used to work well in the hills, now, nothing. Unless you in a major city, forget about USA Mobility's so-called 'nationwide' service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Sandy Swiss, 1 Jul 2010 @ 6:36am

    Hospital Paging

    I think paging systems need to upgrade. There is so much new technology out there. www.turn-keytechnologies is used by the hospital I work at for their hospital paging system. I have to say it is excellent and they are integrating pages to be sent directly to doctors cell phones instead of a pager.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Wireless Communication, 6 May 2011 @ 10:16am

    Hospital communication needs to do a whole lot more than paging

    The communication needs of a hospital has gone beyond the simple pager. The Vocera communications system is a wireless communication solution that allows workers to instantly communicate with each other at the point of care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Cliff McIntire, 15 Jul 2011 @ 3:11pm

    cell phones considered unreliable

    The cheaper cost and smaller package make a pager preferable for some things, but it's their reliability that makes them indispensable for many people.

    Pagers will not die until a more reliable alternative comes along. If pagers were larger and more expensive than smart phones they would still have significant usage. This is because some roles (ie the only sysadmin in a dot com company) MUST get notifications.

    If I had to pay hundreds of dollars a month to have my pager, I would.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    DeepGeek, 24 Feb 2014 @ 8:57pm

    "Summer of Snowden" made me buy a pager again...

    Living in a big city, and knowing "the man" can, with the cell carriers help, pinpoint me on a map is just too freaky. One way pagers, without the transmitters of their two-way cousins, don't triangulate you. A feature we must now examine thanks to privacy concerns.

    I'm actually loving it. Not that I could actually ditch a cell phone in this day and age, but I can at least pull the battery out of my cell and have a half hour "off the grid" here and there. In the meantime, my cell company has "message carbon copy," which copies my pages to my cell, for it's version of "assured messaging." SMS receipt turns all cell phones into "paging terminals" too.

    A great tool to familiarize oneself with a again and to to to your mobile lifestyle on this post Edward Snowden age!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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