History of Paging.

by David S. Rose
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AirMedia, Inc.

More than 20 million people in the United States today are connected by an invisible, ubiquitous wireless link, originally developed in 1949 by a hospitalized radio engineer. Charles F. Neergard was annoyed by the constant, loud voice paging of doctors on his hospital floor, and reasoned that there must be a way to quietly inform only the intended recipient that a message was waiting. The first commercial pagers were deployed in St. Thomas Hospital in London England and were the approximate size and weight of today's two D-cell Mag-light. From those beginnings has sprung an industry that today accounts for over $3 billion in annual revenues. Radio paging has been the primary means of getting instant information to people away from their desks for over 30 years. The paging business has grown steadily since its inception, with increasing proliferation of service and hardware options.
All paging, whether on-site, city-wide, regional or nationwide, is based on the same technology. A radio transmitter, installed on a ground-based tower, broadcasts a constant stream of messages on a specific radio frequency (or channel). Special receivers (called pagers) are tuned to that specific channel and constantly listen to the message stream, waiting for messages intended for their special address (called a cap code). Today, paging receivers come in four types, providing differing levels of utility.

The original pagers, or beepers, received only the address itself from the carrier's transmitter and emitted a single beep, alerting the subscriber to call his or her office to pick up a message. While the first units were quite large, some current tone pagers are small enough to fit completely inside a standard wrist-watch and can support multiple tones for different callers. Today tone-only pagers have all but disappeared.

In the 1970s, voice circuitry was added to pagers, which resulted in a hybrid unit known as a tone-voice pager. This type of pager signals an incoming message with a tone and then replays a short message dictated by the caller. While these units are popular in some smaller markets, the amount of valuable air-broadcast time required for a typical voice message makes them cost prohibitive for paging carriers in most markets. Today, traditional tone-voice pagers make up less than 3 percent of the pager market and that number is shrinking.

Digital display paging was introduced in the early 1980s and has quickly captured the lion's share of the paging market. With a digital, or "numeric pager", a caller enters a callback number through a standard telephone keypad and that number is displayed on the subscriber's pager. Accounting for approximately 80 percent of the U.S. paging market, digital pagers range in size from that of a pack of playing cards down to that of a credit card, wristwatch or pen. Most current models include a limited storage capacity for received messages, and many offer silent vibration alerts in addition to standard audible ones.

As paging technology advanced, the late 1980s saw the introduction of alphanumeric pagers. With these units, actual full-text messages can be entered from a computer and displayed on a single or multi-line screen. Because these pagers often eliminate the need to call the sender back to obtain more information, they have become very popular and represent the fastest growing segment of the market. Today, they accounted for about 20 percent units in service. Today we see the beginning of the next generation pager, where the pager can talk back. Now the pager can ask for the message again if it received some part of it corrupted by electrical interference or weak signal. Additionally, limited message reply capability is now available in some areas with full modem emulation and the elimination of telephone wired for data transmission soon coming.

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