Pagers That Do More Than Beep

For people on the move who don't own a mobile phone, carrying a small electronic pager is a handy and economical way to stay in touch with your office, home, or broker. Clipped onto a belt or tucked in a pocket, the battery-powered device signals when someone wants you to call. And not only by going beep-beep anymore. Modern pagers have a "vibration" mode that lets you feel their signal. A tiny red light blinks on some models made by NEC Electronics, Motorola, and others. If you're too busy to answer immediately, electronic memories in sophisticated pagers, such as Motorola's Bravo, can accumulate a series of callers' numbers and display them in sequence at the press of a button.

Miniaturization has also trimmed pagers so that some are barely larger than a matchbox. You can even find ones that look like fountain pens. Two companies --Motorola and AT&E, of Portland, Ore.--build them into digital wristwatches.

A pager costs considerably less to use and own than a cellular phone. Phones sell for $200 to $2,000, plus a monthly connection cost of $25 or more and up to 90~ cents for each minute of use (whether you make or receive a call). Typically, rather than buy a pager outright, you lease one from a service that transmits your messages. (Check your yellow pages under "paging" or "mobile telephone services.") The fee is $15 to $45 a month, more if you want service beyond a local transmitting area of about 200 miles.

'DOW UP 20.' To contact you, a caller dials the number assigned to your pager, punches in a callback number at a tone, and hangs up. The paging service instantly transmits the number by radio frequency, and it pops up on your pager's little display screen. If you have an "alphanumeric" pager, it can also display brief messages, such as "Call home, urgent" or "Dow up 20."

Some cellular-phone owners also carry a pager--and give out only the pager number. Then, when the pager signals, they can see the caller's number and decide whether to return an urgent call on the cellular phone--at its steep per-minute rate--or wait to use a regular phone.

For convenience, Universal Cellular in Anaheim, Calif., introduced an integrated phone-and-pager unit at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Listing at $1,895, the full-featured PagerPhone is for those who want it all when it comes to staying in touch.

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