HED:Pagers keep people in touch

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

Pagers aren't just for doctors anymore.

From corporations keeping in touch with their employees to teen-agers waiting on calls from their friends, the beeper is now a fixture of life.

The beeper boom is a natural outgrowth of our desire to stay in touch in a mobile society, said Andy Roberts, manager of Delta Telepage in Tupelo.

"Pagers are less expensive and more reliable than cellular phones. It's an easy way for people to stay in contact," Roberts said.

Roberts sees a mixture of clients.

"Companies use them. Then, you've got a lot of husbands and wives who want to be in touch with each other and their families," Roberts said. "Third, kids love them."

Young and on call

Charley Ritchey, 13, became pager-friendly after her last birthday.

"My mom got it for me because we don't have a phone at home. I couldn't get in touch with any of my friends and they couldn't reach me," said Ritchey, who added that many of her peers had pagers before she got connected.

Daniel Arnold, 16, of Pratts, envied the beepers on his friends' hips until his parents bought him a pager over the summer.

"In the summer, I was always away somewhere hanging out with friends and my girlfriend had a hard time getting in touch with me," Arnold said.

Now Arnold's girlfriend and his parents can track him down whenever they want. Parents' desire to be able stay in contact with their children has helped drive the increase in beeper usage, said Robert Palmer, president of J&R Communications and Engineering.

"I have kids at college. They're at Mississippi University for Women and they both carry pagers," he said. "I have immediate access if I need to get a message to them, even in Columbus. Parents want that."

Area calling

The expense of owning a pager varies depending on your needs and your service company. Service that reaches from U.S. Highway 82 to about the Mississippi/Tennessee line can cost less than $12 a month. The cost increases for statewide and multi-state service.

"The technology is available for satellite paging across the nation, but it's very expensive," Roberts said.

Nationwide service can be purchased for between $25 and $35 a month, according to the Consumer Reports Buying Guide 1997.

Most companies use telephone lines and transmitters to get a message to someone's pager.

"As each transmitter in the area sends out the data, the information is also traveling along the phone lines to the next transmitter on the system," Roberts said. "It's a network that covers most of the service area."

Palmer said that if the system gets backed up, it could take as long as 10 minutes to get a message to your pager.

"That's rare. The general rule is 30 seconds," he said.

Plenty of pagers

Pagers vary in price from about $40 for a basic model that holds about six numeric messages to more than $200 for a beeper that delivers both numeric messages and text messages (alphanumeric).

"With an alphanumeric pager, you have to use a computer with a modem or call an operator to send a message," said Tonya Williams, manager of Metro Communication Services.

The monthly service charge for alphanumeric paging costs about $4 to $5 more than regular service. For another $4 or $5, a customer can add voice mail service.

"A lot of people want voice mail added to their service. It provides more detailed information," Williams said. "The pager lets them know they have a voice mail message, and they can call to listen to it."

Possible overload

As technology advances, we can expect pagers with more and more features. One company, Swatch, has already developed a pager the size of a watch. Some companies also offer pagers with built-in speakers to play voice mail messages.

With so many conveniences, just about anyone could find a use for a pager, but there are some drawbacks to this technology. Consider the experience of Dr. Mark Fletcher, a Tupelo neurologist who thinks there's plenty of room for pager abuse.

"There are days when I get 50 or more pages a day. They can be overused," Fletcher said. "I look forward to the day when I can sail mine toward a brick wall."

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