A Guide to Pagers

You might think that pagers have gone out of fashion but that's not the case. Many people still use pagers every day for a number of reasons. First and foremost: pager service is less expensive than cell phone service. Pagers are often smaller and less obtrusive than cell phones. Pagers can convey all the detail you need in a swift message, without the need to converse. Pager services sometimes work in areas where cell phone service is interrupted or nonexistent, and they may work when cell phone service is temporarily disabled.

Pagers are most widely used in government, business and health care industries where other organization members may need to reach you quickly. Pagers are the optimal choice when price is a factor and in settings where discretion is important. Pagers are also a popular alternative to cell phones for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, who don't need telephone service.

Messaging Services
Pagers operate using two service types: one-way messaging and two-way messaging. If you choose a one-way messaging service, you still have to choose whether you want numeric paging or text paging. Numeric pagers are a fine choice if all you need is a phone number. You can also use numerical paging codes to send large amounts of information through numeric messages.

Text messages take the work out of paging, allowing users to send you actual text pages containing messages, rather than just phone numbers. Text paging may require a pager user to be registered with their provider Web site, or may require the sender to use the provider Web site to send messages. Text paging is the ideal choice when you may not have a phone readily available to return calls, and when you want people to be able to relate important information without speaking to them.

A step up from one-way messaging, two-way messaging allows you to receive pager messages and return them directly from your pager. Some two-way pager services assign you an e-mail address that people use to send messages directly to your pager, while others send the messages through a Web site. The small built-in keypads can be tricky to master, so be sure to try a few pagers out to find a keypad that you like.

News paging services let you receive sports, news, financial information and weather directly on your pager. You can also find pagers with voicemail service that lets people leave detailed messages when your pager is turned off or out of range. You'll need to look for this feature, as it's not available on every pager. If you're interested in voice mail, look for a service that provides a toll-free number for you to call and retrieve your messages.

Choosing a Service Provider
You'll pay a monthly fee to a service provider to keep your pager connected. Service providers base their plans around the type of pager you use, offering one-way numeric, one-way text and two-way text messaging plans. You can opt for a set number of messages per month or look for an unlimited data plan.

Most pager providers charge extra to add voicemail, alias services, custom greetings and e-mail services. Thanks to a specialized customer base, pager service is very competitive, so it's worth checking out several providers to see who has the best plan. Many service providers will give you a pager for free or a reduced rate if you sign a one- or two-year contract. Some pager services also reduce their monthly rate if you sign up for a longer plan.

In addition to price, be sure to check the provider's coverage area, making sure that you'll have service where you need it. Some coverage maps may be vague, and if you're near the edge of a coverage area, it's always a good idea to get clarification rather than assuming your pager will work.

Comparing Pagers
You'll likely get a limited selection of pagers from your service provider. When you're comparing pagers, check the screen to be sure you can read it in different light conditions. For nighttime use, you'll want a backlight that illuminates the screen. If you're using the pager outdoors or in a bright office, make sure that the text has high contrast and that the screen isn't washed out by glare.

Unlike cell phones, pagers run on disposable batteries, and you'll need to change them every two weeks or so, depending on how much you use the pager. Look for a low battery indicator and think about getting some rechargeable batteries to reduce your lifetime ownership costs. Changing the batteries will erase any messages in the pager's memory unless you choose a model that offers a message save feature.

Some pagers let you customize alarm tones or music for certain phone numbers. An essential feature to have is a vibrating mode for those times when you don't want to disturb the people around you.

For alphanumeric pagers, look for features that convert numeric codes back into words, which makes messages easier to read. Most pagers will let you save a few frequently used phone numbers as well, but the number you can save may be very limited.

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