`Suspect Is Tall, Bearded Well, Check The Pager'

EVEN A COMPANY WHOSE business is transmitting words--in this case, Paging Network Inc.--can't dispute that a picture is sometimes worth a thousand of them. When the police flash an all-points bulletin (APB) to be on the lookout for a crime suspect or missing child, a sketch or photo could be much more valuable than a verbal description. That's why PageNet jumped on the technology developed by Data Critical Corp.: a way to broadcast images via paging channels. Their new service, dubbed Image APB, is being tested by various federal and local law-enforcement agencies.

Software from Data Critical in Redmond, Wash., carves an image into multiple pager-size transmissions. Every police cruiser and beat cop equipped with a portable computer and a pager "card" would pluck the signals out of the air and reassemble them on the PC's display. An entire police force could be on the alert in minutes. And for cities that have already outfitted police cars with PCs, the cost would run about $300 per computer plus $14,000 for a transmitter. By summer, PageNet and Data Critical also plan to offer what might be called Image EKG--a similar service for sending electrocardiograms and X-rays to doctors who are on the move.