Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pagers Get Smarter, Smaller and Lighter

CHICAGO -- Business travelers who rely on text-receiving pagers to keep in touch with the office and their colleagues will be seeing some changes.

The pagers themselves are getting smaller, lighter and smarter, according to experts at Motorola Inc. Two-way paging will be a reality, in the words of Rob Pollock, a marketing director for the company, "before you know it."

Motorola's widely used pager, capable of displaying four lines of text at a time as it scrolls from the bottom up, is somewhat of a "granddad" now, according to Julie Greene, consumer products manager with the company.

The firm's new "Memo Express" model is considerably more compact -- about the size of a pack of cigarettes -- and the text moves in one line, scrolling from right to left across the screen.

Alphanumeric pagers -- so called because they can receive both numbers, like the phone numbers which show up on standard pagers, as well as written messages -- have become increasingly popular among business travelers. A quick message like "come back, the deal's off" saves the enroute pager-equipped traveler time and affords maximum flexibility. Similarly one employee can send tips and other business information to a fellow traveler -- even one flying on an aircraft.

To send a text message the user must call a telephone operator for the carrier with which the company has a contract and dictate a message. Messages can also be sent from a software-equipped personal computer with a modem or from dedicated sending stations in hotels, airports and other locations.

Such messages typically run from 80 to 120 characters. Alphanumeric pagers can also receive automatic feeds of information -- news headlines at designated times each day, for example.

Within a year, the people at Motorola say, alphanumeric pagers will be on the market that can respond to a message using existing satellite and other communications pathways. The two-way communication, however, will be somewhat limited. The person on the receiving end of the message, for example, may be able to activate the pager to send a simple acknowledgment but not a lengthy reply.

This is but one development in what appears to be a communications revolution that will in the next few years make for a truly portable, any-time, any-place office.

The current buzzword is "wireless." That means using radio bands to receive and send information from keypad equipped devices about the size of a business envelope.

In addition to private radio networks, cellular telephone companies have jumped in with something called cellular digital packet data which, according to a recent report in Mobile Office magazine, allows data to be transmitted in high-speed "bursts" over idle cellular channels.

Those kinds of systems promise to provide more competition for the once lowly pager, but one Motorola official said experts had once forecast that the portable cellular telephone would lead to the death of the pager. In fact, 35 percent of all cellphone users also carry a pager, he said.