How do beepers work? Are they still in use in this cell phone age?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before cell phones, beepers were once ubiquitous, but probably a lot of people reading this have never actually seen one. Beepers, often also called “pagers,” were/are small, battery-powered devices that “beep” (hence the name) when someone was trying to reach the beeper-holder by telephone. The way beepers work is by using electronic components that pick up on FM radio signals which then cause the device to vibrate, flash, or emit sounds to notify the person of an urgent call. At one time, beepers were worn almost exclusively by physicians an business executives but became more mainstream in later years (again, prior to the wide-spread use of cell phone). In 1992, for example, about 2.9 million people in the United States carried beepers. But by 2012, “Americans bought approximately $7 million worth of new pagers, somewhere under 10,000 units.” That’s quite the decline!

All-in-all, beepers had a little over a forty year run. The first paging device was used in 1950 in the New York City area. By 1970, there were about 32,600 pages in use, even though these beepers were bulky and pretty unreliable. Technological innovations improved the pager over the next decade, the devices became more compact and more reliable, and, importantly, more affordable. By 1981, there were about a million users in the U.S. At the outset, a user could only get pages if the caller was within his or her geographic area. The improvements allowed pages to be sent and received nation-wide.

Most beepers have an FM receiver, a device which decodes tones, and an audio amplifier. Beepers allow the user to access the phone number of the person who has paged him or her. Satellite transmission has allowed for pagers to send and receive alphanumeric messages.

Today, beepers are considered an obsolete technology, but the ones still sold are typically to people in the medical professions. Doctors report that they still “find pager networks more reliable, particularly in emergencies where cellular systems tend to go down.”

Source: How Products are Made, ©2002 Gale Cengage.

ncchemist eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A beeper is another term for a pager.  A pager is a wireless communication device that has been around for several decades but became popularized from the late 70's through the early 90's.  Pagers differ from more modern communication devices in that text based messages are sent from a base unit via a specific radio frequency to either a single mobile unit (the pager) or a network of units.  You can think of it as the original version of text messaging.  Some pagers can also receive audio messages or signals as well.  When a simple pager receives a signal, it usually makes a beeping noise or some other type of sound to alert the user of a new message (hence the name "beeper").  Pagers containing a transmitter can also send messages to the central base unit as well.

Although modern cellular technology and text messaging has largely superseded pager technology for personal use, pagers do actually still find some specific uses today.  They are still used in areas with no or unreliable cell service such as service tunnels or in areas where cell signals might interfere with sensitive equipment like hospitals or airports.  They are also still very commonly used by restaurants for helping alert customers waiting for seating times. 

Jyotsana | Student

Beeper is kind of pager. It gives you message. It tells you who gave the message. You don't have to pay for it and its useful.

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