Pagers That Can Spell It All Out

A few years ago, anyone you saw wearing a beeper was apt to be either a doctor or a technician on call. These days, beepers--or, to give them their proper name, pagers--adorn the belts and pocketbooks of all sorts of people. For many executives and professionals on the go, pagers--which usually vibrate rather than beep--have become invaluable companions. And new pagers and paging services now coming along will greatly enhance their usefulness.

Pagers have grown up. The earliest units did nothing but beep, usually at an embarrassing moment. You had to phone to get the number of the calling party. The next level, pagers that provide the number to call, still account for at least 80% of the units in use.

HEADLINES. Alphanumeric pagers, which can spell out a message, account for only about 12% of new sales but dominate the executive market. The top-of-the-line Advisor from Motorola Inc. lets you scroll through text messages four lines at a time, allowing for expanded communications. And because pagers are priced like cellular phones, with service providers heavily subsidizing the purchase price, even the fanciest unit should set you back less than $100 when you buy it with a service agreement.

For many, perhaps the most important use of pagers comes in partnership with a cellular phone. Fishing a ringing phone out of your briefcase or purse is awkward at best, and leaving the unit on standby to receive incoming calls gobbles up batteries. Give callers your pager number instead, and use the cell phone only to call out.

The use of pagers, however, goes well beyond taking phone messages. Paging companies can provide software that allows a modem-equipped computer to send a text message to your pager. You can also arrange to get selected news items from Reuters or from other news services (prices and availability vary). For example, I could have a pager receive certain headlines, say, those referring

to Intel Corp. or Microsoft Corp.

You can also have electronic mail sent to a pager. Both cc:Mail and Lotus Notes, for example, can be set up to page you when a high-priority E-mail message arrives. You can then whip out your laptop to retrieve the text or, with some Notes systems, receive the messages themselves by phone.

"CANNED" REPLIES. Paging is offered in a baffling array of service plans and prices. The basic rates allow you to receive a set number of messages per month on a pager you buy or rent, with an additional charge for each extra message. Your most important decision is coverage: Local service will page you only in your home area; national paging, offered by MobileComm, SkyTel, and PageNet, will reach you anywhere in the U.S. Some services provide a third option that requires you to notify the paging company where you'll be.

Licenses that have just been auctioned by the federal government will provide new paging options, perhaps by the end of 1996. The new "narrowband PCS [personal communications services]" pagers will have a limited two-way communications ability. One benefit is that these new pagers, like cellular phones, will be able to tell the network where they are, making national paging more efficient. You'll also be able to acknowledge receipt of pages and to select from a menu of "canned" responses to messages.

Pagers may not be the highest-tech communications devices around. But unlike wireless technologies such as cellular data transmission, they are affordable and here today. If you need to stay in touch, a pager may be just the right tool for you.

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