Old pager Motorola
Illustrative photo of a Motorola Advisor pager Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Abu Dhabi:Many Saudi doctors are among five million people who are still using pagers (also known as beepers), wireless telecommunications devices that receive and display alphanumeric or voice messages, Saudi media reported.

One-way pagers can only receive messages, while response pagers and two-way pagers can also acknowledge, reply to, and originate messages using an internal transmitter.

The use of “pagers” officially ended in Saudi Arabia 15 years ago after the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) introduced the mobile phone in 2005, which gradually displaced and eliminated them.

However some doctors and hospitals in the Kingdom are still using pagers because modern pager systems’ coverage overlap, combined with use of satellite communications, can make paging systems more reliable than terrestrial-based cellular networks in some cases, including during natural and man-made disasters. This resilience has led public safety agencies to adopt pagers over cellular and other commercial services for critical messaging.

More than 800,000 Saudis used the “pager” until 2000, while the number of its users reached almost nill in 2020, with the exception of a number of doctors.

Pagers operate as part of a paging system which includes one or more fixed transmitters (or in the case of response pagers and two-way pagers, one or more base stations), as well as a number of pagers carried by mobile users. These systems can range from a restaurant system with a single low-power transmitter, to a nationwide system with thousands of high-power base stations.

The pagers, which were developed in the 1950s and 1960s, and became widely used by the 1980s, are still used by about five million people according to US statistics in 2019, but the pager annually loses more users around the world, who switch to mobile phones, while by 1994 the number of “pager” users reached more than 61 million around the world.

In the 21st century, the widespread availability of cellphones and smartphones has greatly diminished the pager industry. Nevertheless, pagers continue to be used by some emergency services and public safety personnel.

According to a study conducted by the Journal of Hospital Medicine in 2019, it has been shown that 80 per cent of doctors still use their pager largely while everyone owns smartphones.

The UK National Health Service is thought to use over 10 per cent of remaining pagers in 2017 (130,000),with an annual cost of £6.6 million. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced in February 2019 that the 130,000 pagers still in use were to be phased out. NHSX announced plans in May 2020 to replace pagers and bleepers with “more modern communication tools”, accelerated the pressure placed on the service by the COVID-19 pandemic in England.

In Japan, more than ten million pagers were active in 1996. On October 1, 2019, Japan’s last paging service provider shut down radio signals and terminated its service.