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Technology - The Difference Between a Pager and a Beeper

posted on: January 21st, 2013

One of the most common questions we get asked here at LRS UK is: ‘What’s the difference between a pager and a bleeper?’

Well, the truth is, there is absolutely no difference between them – they are both terms used to describe the personal one-way telecommunication devices which allow users to receive short numeric and/or text messages.

‘Pager’ was the original name used for these devices as people used them to get the attention (page) of one another. ‘Beeper’ (or sometimes ‘bleeper’) is simply a nickname which came from the noise the device made whenever an incoming signal was being received. These signals used to notify a person that he or she needed to call someone or that they had a message waiting to be heard on a voicemail system.

Paging devices look pretty much the same regardless of what they are called. They are relatively small units which are about two-and-a-half centimetres wide, five centimetres long, and just over a centimetre in diameter. Incoming numeric or alphanumeric messages are displayed on a narrow read-out screen which can light up when a button is pressed (on some models). In addition, most modern units have buttons which allow users to scroll backward and forward to find relevant messages. Small clips attached to the back of the unit casing allow them to be attached to a user's belt or pocket. It is worth noting that not all beepers beep. Indeed, most models can be set to vibrate and/or light up, as well as beep while vibrating, and beep and light up while vibrating.

Beepers first came to the fore in the 1950s when they were developed for physicians in the New York area to receive emergency calls. Initially, these were just numeric receivers which nursing assistants, charge nurses, or fellow doctors would call and dial a number into a messaging service. This would cause the target paging device to activate and notify the physician that a message had come through. The physician would then call the number that they saw on the pager or call a messaging service to receive their voicemail. Of course, things have moved on considerably since then. Indeed, paging solutions these days are able to relay alphanumeric messages, whilst some are even designed to be two-way devices.

The heyday of the beeper was undoubtedly the 1980s and 90s, when they were widely regarded to be the most effective form personal communication available. Of course, the introduction of the mobile phone to the mass market changed all this as it enabled people to call and text each other with consummate ease. However, beepers are by no means redundant. Indeed, they still have a role to play, especially in places where mobile phones cannot receive a signal, and by people in emergency or security positions, such as fire fighters and police response teams. They are also a vital tool for staff in hospitals as they do not interfere with medical apparatus such as monitoring equipment or defibrillators.