A Brief History of Paging

The pager is a wireless device that uses dedicated radio frequency to receive numeric, text or voice messages. The messages are broadcast on a specific frequency over a dedicated network from radio base stations known as transmitters.

Users can use a telephone, email or web portal to send numeric, text or voice messages to a pager. An incoming message will be displayed on the pager as a numeric message, text message or message saying there is a voice mail in the pager mailbox.

Here’s a history of this remarkable device from its inception in 1921 through to its continued application in critical messaging.

1921: The Detroit Police Department successfully put a radio dispatch into their patrol cars. It was the first-ever pager-like system.

1949: Al Gross (pictured below) patented the telephone pager device in 1950 used by New York City’s Jewish Hospital. It’s primary niche – critical communications – remains a favoured device in hospitals today.

Ever the inventor, Gross developed the walkie-talkie and CB radio in addition to the pager. His patents lapsed by the 1970s but Gross never complained. A year before his death in 2000, he said, “They have “permeated our society. I’m delighted.”

1959: The term “pager” was coined by Motorola.

1964: Motorola began its 40-year history with the introduction of the Pageboy I. Medical workers used the pager when they needed to communicate with each other within a hospital; the recipient just received a single tone and knew what action was required.

Today, healthcare professionals know that paging technology is better at penetrating buildings.

1970s: Tone and voice pagers were invented. They’re known as digital voice paging (DVP) today because an audio message follows the tone alert. Current DVP systems aren’t solely dependent upon landlines — which are likely to be compromised in wide-scale disaster situations — because the systems can be controlled via satellite links and thus are unaffected by events on the ground.

1980: About 3.2 million pager users worldwide still had a limited range (local-area pagers). Medical teams within a hospital used them for critical communications. 

1980s: Wide-area paging emerged to convey messages over radio waves across a city, state, or even a country. Paging use explodes, becoming popular among consumers for personal use.

1980s (early): “Quiet, please,” the hospital sign read. Messages appearing on the Numeric Display pagers were silent. Instead, a number showed on top of the device with either the extension to call or an internal code for a predetermined action. You could also initiate pages through a telephone.

These same Numeric Pagers use LCD (liquid crystal display) to generally show up to 10 digits.

1980s (mid): Alphanumeric display pagers were introduced. They could send a text message through a digital network and initiate in a variety of ways, including operator dispatch, IXO (a device used for sending alphanumeric pages via Telelocator Alphanumeric Protocol (TAP), and computer.

1990s (late): Two-way pagers, or pagers that included QWERTY keyboards, were introduced so message recipients could respond to the page directly from the device. Many major hospitals and health systems still employ two-way paging today, but one-way pagers remain more popular.

1994: There were 61 million pagers in use. How did their popularity grow so quickly? They’re budget friendly. Paging service contracts often cost the same for one year as a smartphone contracts costs for one month, making pagers still much more cost-effective.

1995: Motorola introduced the world’s first two-way pager, the Tango two-way personal messaging pager. It allowed users to receive text messages, e-mail, and reply with a standard response. It also could be connected to a computer to download long messages.

2010: An alphanumeric pager with an encrypted paging option was developed. With secure messaging capabilities and display-lock security features, this device provides a powerful tool for healthcare and emergency response communication.

2012: Waiting room/ restaurant coaster pagers are introduced to the market, to relieve crowded waiting rooms in the hospitals and manage waiting time in restaurants.

2013: The Paging App was developed by multiple paging companies to manage critical messages on all devices and to increase paging coverage

2014: The Message Manager, the critical messaging cloud-based software is developed for easier dispatch of critical messages to individuals and groups.

Today, pagers are embraced by the same groups who used the very first versions: public safety, first responders and healthcare professionals.

Even with the proliferation of smartphones, pagers remain popular in these industries because of the reliability of the paging networks. No matter how sophisticated smartphones become, until cellular networks can match the survivable architecture of the paging networks, pagers will remain a staple of critical communications for years to come.

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