Alphanumeric Pagers

Rachel Chertkoff (Editor: Scott Partridge)

Alphanumeric pagers are pagers that deliver messages in text to the receiver. This is not the last step. The pager is a communication technology in a state of transition. Prior to the invention of the alphanumeric pager, pagers were simply a beeper displaying a phone number. The reason for profiling the pager is that it continues to develop into a tiny, more general purpose, portable communication system. We have yet to see the final incarnation, if there is to be one, of pager technology.


The alphanumeric pager allows the user to receive messages written in text, rather than a simple numeric page or coded message. These pagers can range from beepers with large enough storage space for receipt of e-mails or faxes to pagers that will display a single sentence. Some will even run the userís favorite stock quotes in real time!

Paging systems use radio waves to transmit or broadcast one-way messages. The pager itself is small, allowing for accessibility at all times, and can be carried or clipped to clothing. Each pager has a number, like a phone number, which the caller dials. The pager is then contacted, and informs the user that he/she is being contacted, with a beep, a vibration, or other signal. Recently, pagers have been upgraded to even allow coverage in an airplane or from around the world. They can work with voice mail capabilities, allowing a caller to leave a message that the user can pick up at his/her leisure. Or, as mentioned above, pagers can display messages across their screens.


One key player in the pager market is Mobile Telecommunications (Mtel). This company produces the technology, and sells it to major national telecom companies such as Airtouch, Bell Atlantic, GTE Telephone and MCI, for distribution. Mtelís consolidated revenue for the fourth quarter ending 31 December 1997 increased 26.2 per cent from the year-ago period to $113.2 million' (Business Wire 1997: 1). Motorola is also a key player in the pager business.

Pagers have become a big business, and new products and new advances have kept the market expanding. The pager is in a constant state of development. Two-way paging capabilities are beginning to emerge, and even the alphanumeric pager is a fairly recent invention.

The first one-way communication system, pre-dating paging as we know it in 1998, emerged in 1921, with the introduction of radio systems used by the Detroit Police Department. It expanded in the 1930s, when the technology was used by emergency workers, military and police, and government agencies here in America, sending messages from, perhaps, a police station to a police car. This led to pager technology similar to ours today, using an address to contact a particular user and send a digital message. The display system first emerged in the 1980s, and from this point, it has been a rapid advancement of technology, with the introduction of alphanumeric paging and other recent innovations. Standard codes such as the Post Office Code Standardization Advisory Group, developed in 1976, the GSC, and 5/6 tone codes, are used to standardize and facilitate industry growth. The industry has also developed to include more user-friendly technology and computerized systems.


Pagers have many uses, not least of which is the ordinary user who wants to be reachable at all times, whether for personal reasons or work. Parents may rest easier leaving their children with a sitter if they have a pager on them; doctors can be paged in a medical emergency. Pagers are even used at restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory, so customers can shop while they wait for their table.


Pagers were once thought of as a tool for drug dealers, and initially were most commonly used by medical personnel for emergency services. Now, the everyday consumer is beginning to see the benefits of using a pager for business or personal use. Womenís increased use of pagers has encouraged companies to produce more attractive designs. In addition, 'funkier' looking pagers are being marketed to teenagers. Runners can use pagers that clip to their belts. One advantage of pagers as opposed to the cellular telephone is the ability to screen phone calls, thus not wasting airtime on an undesired call. Pagers are also used in combination with the cellular phone. More and more people are working from home or on the go. The pager is adapting to the needs of these companies and employees who must be mobile, yet in constant touch with the office.


Worldwide reach is most likely the next step for the pager. The Asian market is expected to expand with improving economies. The alphanumeric pagerís technology can be used for miniature computers. As it stands now, they can operate as portable email receivers and fax machines. Computing will never be the same, as a pager becomes a personal computer on the go. Two-way pager technology is already being marketed, and its capabilities will surely be increased. Voice recognition papers and portable answering machines are currently being developed and marketed. Sky pagers, allowing paging worldwide and in the air, will become more common. All of these technologies are expected to become even more affordable as they gain wide acceptance.

One of the most advantageous features of the pager is that it is compatible with other technologies. This indicates that the pager will probably not lose its popularity. Instead, it will be combined with other communication technologies to create new and better tools for the future.