The changing face of paging
From a simple alert to two-way communications, the little beeper has become the personal assistant.
From its humble beginnings in the hospitals of the 1950s, the pager made great strides to become the device popularized by business professionals in the late 1980s. Originally, pagers were simple radio receivers designed to deliver a radio message selectively to a particular individual.
As years passed and information transfer became more important, however, pagers were forced to evolve. Until the 1990s, pagers did little more than alert the user of a message and provide a phone number at which to reach the sender. In true Darwinian fashion, the modern pager continues to evolve and to offer new capabilities.
In a world where high-tech complexity runs rampant, it’s easy to assume the pager, at least, has remained simple. Not anymore. In fact, paging has become so multifaceted that even pager manufacturers have trouble keeping up with the changes.
Dayakar Puskoor, CEO of Dallas-based JP Systems, said that just two years ago he attempted to convince the industry to incorporate pagers into personal digital assistants (PDAs). Nobody was interested, so Puskoor started working on the project himself. This spring, he reported “everybody is forming an alliance to put two-way paging into PDAs.” Puskoor added that he was “happy the industry is going in this direction,” although it’s likely that he would prefer that it doesn’t move fast enough to catch up with him.
The differentiator of this new pager generation is the capability to respond to an incoming message. Now, Puskoor said, you can communicate back directly, through virtually any medium.
This might imply the demise of the stand-alone pager. To a large extent, this is true. Adam Winters, former marketing manager for distributor Marketronics, Sunrise, FL, said that during the past two years sales of the stand-alone pager had deteriorated.
“I expect this pace will quicken over the next couple of years,” Winters said.
With the advent of two-way advanced messaging, which offers many overlapping features, it’s hard to keep track of available technologies. Lee Ellison, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Glenayre Technologies, Charlotte, NC, noted that in addition to person-to-person communications, there is device-to-device telemetry.
These devices, which are used for management purposes, include functions such as monitoring networks, meter reading or vending machine polling. Polling devices contact a machine that provides a reflex response detailing the number of products yet to be sold. The route driver then can be alerted not to make unnecessary stops.
Although the big news is the incorporation of paging into all kinds of PDAs, there’s also the alternative of adding more features to traditional pagers. For instance, Bailey Zheng, president, Linktronic Systems, Los Alamitos, CA, said that he was taking his traditional paging devices in three directions. One path is to use the paging infrastructure to send email. Another path is to connect to the Internet. The third path is to move into the sender market by incorporating cellular technology.
Glenayre’s Ellison calls these traditional pagers “belt-tops.” They have the same lightweight size as standard pagers, with the same extensive battery life. But they can also originate messages and send queries.
“The advantages of the belt-top devices is that they can be always with you and always turned on, whereas a palmtop may be in a briefcase or turned off to save the batteries,” Ellison said.
That opens the door for the proliferating PDA category, including: smart phones, such as the Mitsubishi Mobile and the Samsung Duette; palmtops, such as the 3Com Palmpilot Pro/3 with Novatel Wireless Minstrel model; and Windows CE hand-held PCs.
Companies are offering variations of wireless connections for PDAs. For example, JP Systems’ Puskoor said that wireless links allow the user to send email from a PDA or to connect to the Web for yellow pages and to retrieve the desired information.
San Diego-based Novatel Wireless offers modems to provide two-way access to corporate data, email and the Internet without the need for phone lines or a wired connection, said marketing manager Mona Thomas. Each modem has its own IP address and connects to the Internet via the Wireless IP network. Wireless IP, also known as cellular digital packet data (CDPD), is a method of transmitting data in small packets of information over the existing cellular network. Practical Sales Tools (PST), Blue Bell, PA, claims to have offered the first fully interactive wireless data interface between popular contact-management programs and portable devices, such as the 3Com Palmpilot, with its Novatel Wireless Minstrel modem.
PST’s president, Ed Dempsey, said, “Critical junctures in a sales or customer-service pipeline can happen in airports, lobbies, cars and other venues-places where mobile professionals cannot conveniently use their laptops or obtain an Internet connection and access current data.” Dempsey added that his product literally puts corporate databases and contact managers in the palms of field representatives’ hands using wireless connectivity. Field personnel not only view the data, but also input their own, thus updating the data and providing real-time access for everyone in the company.
“This can dramatically improve the success of current or planned sales automation implementations while empowering mobile professionals with convenient, complete and current customer and prospect data, anytime, anywhere,” Dempsey said.
This system does not require data synchronization, so the master copy of the database reflects all of the changes made by all users in real time. When users initiate access, the information is current from the time the connection is made, which enables users to make better informed decisions.
“Because this is a true thin-client solution, it does not require any software installations on the hand-held devices,” Dempsey said.
Datalink.net, San Jose, CA, is offering a new service that allows companies to extend their Web presence to wireless devices. Anthony LaPine, Datalink’s CEO, said, “Wireless-enabled Web sites will allow companies to free their Internet content from the desktop and reach their audiences no matter where they are through wireless.” Datalink.net’s patented technology enables the filtration and extraction of information from a Web page, then formats that information for wireless devices and delivers it to the end users’ pager, phone or PDA.
“Wireless-enabled Web technology has enormous possibilities,” LaPine said. “Any Web site will be able to expand its reach, no matter where its customers are. It will be able to send out important information and carry out e-commerce beyond the traditional confines of the computer, opening up whole new markets for the Internet.”
Glenayre’s Ellison said that these improvements in communications technology, in general, and paging, in particular, are being driven “by people willing to pay for perceived value.”
“The value of a message telling you to return a call has some limited value,” he said. “But there is a drive for increased efficiency and better communication with higher-quality information. As people become more mobile, they are looking for solutions rather than features.”
Applications are proliferating. “You can track the status of Federal Express shipments,” Ellison said. “You can query updates from stock quotations, with automated directions to sell at a certain price. You can track airline flights, so that if there is a delay, you can know how long to wait before you have to go to the airport. You have the ability to enter text messaging and have it delivered, via speech, to anybody with a telephone.”
Ellison added that peer-to-peer communications are easy and analogous to the chat service on the Internet. If you’re sitting at an airport with one of these wireless devices, you can communicate comfortably with your assistant or with other staff members through their email.
In other words, the term “beeper” is no longer applicable. Although simple alert and numeric-only pagers may go the way of the dodo, a new generation of pager, offering email and Internet access, has evolved to take its place in the information food chain.
Several paging and mobile phone manufacturers are developing devices that will do everything from agenda organizing to Web surfing. Handsets will have built-in screens, allowing email and Internet access through digital phone service. The debate continues about whether all of these services should be incorporated into a phone or whether they should be put into a separate device, enabling users to talk on the phone while checking email or stock quotes.
This new era of mobile communications has pitted Symbian against Microsoft over whose operating system will become dominant among these new mobile super-devices. Symbian has developed the EPOC operating system to rival Microsoft’s Windows CE. Nokia has already made a firm commitment to Symbian and EPOC through its joint venture.
Nokia, Sprint PCS and BellSouth, among many others, are involved in developing plans for these new devices. Many believe that 2000, when numerous applications will become available, will be a big year for wireless data.
These new mobile devices (whether incorporated into phones or not) will have bandwidth and screen-size limitations. Some of the advanced graphics, color and animation incorporated into many Web sites will have to be stripped away, leaving only the “bare-bones” information for these devices to deliver. Many users may perceive that as a positive alteration rather than as a drawback, however.