Servicing pagers: The password problem
Are pager passwords necessary? Communication between airtime sellers and the elimination of passwords may be more conducive to business
A customer came into the shop one day with a succint request.
“Can you hook this up?” He handed me a Bravo Express pager.
“Let me take a look at it,” I answered. I took it to the Express programmer, put it in the nest and hit “F3” to read the capcode and frequency information. It was password-protected. I returned it to the customer.
“I’m going to have to look into this one, but I probably can get it hooked up,” I said. “When you purchased this pager, you should have received it without any parts missing. This one’s missing a resistor, and that prevents me_or any airtime reseller_from programming your pager easily. I have a running feud with an industry that allows the seller to ‘own’ a customer’s property.”
He left the pager with me after agreeing on a price.
I went into the shielded room, better known as the “tin-foil tomb,” and pulled the Express apart. R6 was missing, a 56kV “chip” resistor on the logic board. The sales force of the previous dealership has probably programmed the pager, included a password and then removed the resistor. I was frustrated_I had no way to get back to them about this customer’s pager bill.
Replacing the resistor took a few minutes. Then I went over to the computer, pulled up Ultratek’s Pagersaver application and overwrote the password. I checked the BREXPPS files and made sure I had removed the password. The procedure doesn’t always work at first, and several tries might be needed. I was lucky_this time.
A few hours later, another customer brought a Bravo Plus into the shop. Same problem, same cure_only this time R26 was missing, another 56kV “chip” resistor on the logic board.
I went back to the computer program, performed an overwrite of the data and put the assembled pager back into the programmer nest to read it. Checking BRAVOPPS, I found that the pager had been erased. Another capcode, another pager, another day….
Forward bias The R6 chip in the Bravo Express, or R26 in the Bravo Plus, forward-biases the “READ” line in either pager. This puts a low current and high voltage (3V) on the line. If this voltage is not present, the program will not be able to read the existing information in the pager, and programming the Plus or the Express will not be possible. Usually, the LED on the programming interface will not illuminate, regardless of how much you argue with the interconnecting pins.
Line cutting In the Bravo, there is really no true “password protection,” but some enterprising person discovered that by setting the “CLOCK,” (or “STROBE”) line, the pager would not be able to communicate with the Bravo programmer. The pager is programmed, then the CLOCK line is cut.
Such problems are easily diagnosed. The programmer just sits there, prompting “insert pager,” regardless of how many times you’ve inserted the thing. At least I could read the old capcode and deduce who the airtime supplier was from the frequency.
The solution is to scrape away the ends of the break, tin them slightly with solder and “jump” the gap with a single strand of multiconductor zip-cord.
Churn and connivance Any thrifty customer will shop around for the lowest price for airtime. Unfortunately, the customer will often “forget” to call a previous airtime supplier to inform it of the decision to discontinue service. Passwords in pagers are a crude means of preventing an unequipped retailer from overwriting a previous capcode.
Unfortunately, I cannot count the times when an unscrupulous customer has left an account “hanging,” wandering off after being activated for a single month. Resellers cannot take the time to completely research a capcode. They certainly cannot take any step toward checking the capcode if it is unavailable because of password or circuit destruction.
Some politicians and pundits have proclaimed the need for a national registry of pager numbers, capcodes, airtime suppliers, customer names and resellers. The reality that is overlooked is that pagers are traded, bought and sold on every street corner in every large city. Tracking such a commodity would take the time and effort of at least six angels or a massive, invasive bureaucracy. Statewide or national registry of personal property like automobiles is one thing, but a $100 pager? Get real.
No, some other form of programming a pager is far more realistic. Avoid the use of passwords, leave the information available to other resellers and let them contact the previous reseller or airtime supplier. Passwords in a pager are unnecessary and prevent any legitimate business from fairly obtaining late payment if due. The use of passwords can be self-defeating.
Ludvigson is a technician in Houston.