As Vodafone closes its pager business, we ask if the pager of the 90s and early 00s influenced the notification heavy smartphones of today?
As reported by BBC News, Vodafone has decided to close its pager business after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocked its sale to Capita; the UK’s only other remaining paging business.
I want to look back on how the humble pager may have had more influence on today’s communication tech than we give it credit for.
“I’ll Text You”
Unbelievably there were days when even mobile phones couldn’t send a text message. Then when it was introduced in 1994 (as SMS) it was expensive and at first hardly used.
By this time, pagers were well established as the way to receive a short but important alphanumeric message on a portable device. Some of the applications of pagers were and continue to be for emergency service response, hospital staff communication, and during the 00s they were even used in restaurants as a way of telling customers their table was ready!
But they were also available for personal use.
My Memories of Pagers
When I was much younger and before mobile phones were affordable, my parents gave me a pager. They wanted a way to message me to come home for tea or if they needed me in an emergency.
The pager did the job by sending me a four-numbered code, that my parents sent by ringing a phone number from their landline and typing the four-digit code into the handset. Once received I knew it was time to come home.
My pager was also able to send me the football scores and news reports, albeit in short form. A feature we all take for granted now we have apps to do this, as well as everything else.
Unfortunately, due to a freak accident involving my backpack and my roller skates (I was 12), the pager was smashed. The following Christmas I was lucky enough to receive my first mobile phone, the mighty Nokia 5110!
Only now looking back at what my faithful pager was capable of, I realise how it was the pioneer of what we take for granted in our interconnected online lives. Even today when receiving text messages to tell us we have a voicemail, there were pagers essentially doing the same for physicians in New York back in the early 50s, lightyears ahead of their time.
The Pager’s Legacy
When the inventors of today’s smartphones sat down to innovate, it’s easy to imagine the pager being part of that early blueprint. A device capable of not only two-way communication but updating you on world events. I like to think they looked at the success of the pager and thought, “Yes, we need more of that.” And of course the birth of social media has only excelled this further.
If Vodafone’s decision to close up is the curtain call for the paging device then I’d like to think its legacy is the series of notifications you’ve probably received from friends, family and businesses all round the world, just while reading this article.