Pagers a.k.a beepers are now all but extinct. There was a time when they had their uses of course but one-way communication is not even close to what mobile phones can offer. There is simply no room left for them now. When Richard Jarvis of Vodafone received the first SMS in December 1992, pagers were doomed from that point on (extra points to those of you who can quote the actual message*).
It all started in 1959, when Motorola – who else – made the first pager. It did take 15 long years for those devices to achieve some market success. Again, it was Motorola and their Pageboy I that made the breakthrough.
In those dark times, pagers could neither store, nor display the messages. All they did was alert the user that a message had been received and the user had to call a number and get it. Plus, they only worked as short-range receivers and their use was pretty limited – mostly to on-site communication such as in hospitals.
In the early 90s, pagers got wide-range broadcasting support, which unlocked their full potential and made them as attractive as they ever got.
The number of users exceeded 20 millions shortly after and only four years later, they were already over 60 million. However mobile phones started their quick ascent right about then and pushed pagers out of the market.
The pagers did try to evolve but nothing could save them. Adding sending message and email capabilities may have delayed their death, but that just wasn’t enough to keep them floating.
Today, virtually every mobile phone out there will give you seriously better email capabilities.
The pagers’ last line of defense nowadays remain the so called "critical messaging" markets. Their reliability makes them very suitable for such purposes as they never stop working in times of trouble. Immune to the network overload problems that cellphones suffer, pagers have been used in the aftermaths of disasters such as the September 11 attacks or the Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
So pagers are enjoying such a small market share today that no manufacturers find it sensible to invest in their development and manufacturing. We are probably seeing the last days of these dinosaurs.
The sales are so small that no one bothers reporting them anymore. Certainly an indication that there’s just no future for the technology and it will soon become history. A clear victory for cell phones here.
In their glory days, they stood proud on every corner, a cheap and easy way for people to make – and even receive – a call. Well, times have vastly changed and the service they offer is obsolete.
It’s mostly a one-way connection (even if some pay phones can receive calls) and that’s not quite as convenient as cell phones of course. And you obviously cannot carry it with you.
With the advent of mobile phones, most large companies and service providers started quitting and that made achieving competitive pricing simply impossible. It’s hard to be competitive when you have limited resources and this is a pretty uphill battle to begin with, so most just gave up.
Let’s put things into some perspective here by showing you how rapidly those pay phones are disappearing.
The first payphone emerged as far back as 1889, but at the time attendants had to collect the cash manually. 13 years later the number of payphones surpassed 80 thousands in the US alone and the increased financial interest naturally led to quick growth.
The speed of technological evolution back then wasn’t quite the same as today but still in 1905 the world got the first outdoor public payphone. Then numbers continued to grow and in 1960 reached 7 digits.
At the peak of their form, in the year 2000 there were more than 2 million of those on streets in the US alone. They kept that level for a while before eventually starting going downhill.
The short two-year period of 2007 and 2008 alone saw more than half (58 percent to be precise) of all street phones disappear. Today there are only about 700 000 pay phones left in the US and we are only going to see a further decline in that number.
And while there are little officially posted numbers for other countries the picture is perhaps quite similar. This is all, of course, logical, there is no way for the past to be reconciled with the future.
So are we about to see the last of them payphones? They will disappear eventually but it’s hardly going to be fast. Phone booths are still being used as advertising media and London has them as one of its most popular sights so they seem to have secured a few more years of existence.
As the prices of mobile phones and calls continue to fall, there’ll be less and less room for phone booths. Even the tiny investment for their construction and support will make little economical sense. And in the telecom business, like in any other business, it’s all about the Benjamins.
So there you have it – another doomed species that mobile phones will kick out of business. Let’s see what comes up next.
*It said "Happy Christmas".