Pagers or Cell Phones?

Pagers were once the stuff of doctors, a way to alert them quickly that they were needed at the hospital. But as the technology became cheaper and more sophisticated, the customer base quickly spread — finding functionality for everyone from parents to teenagers, from drug dealers to CEOs.

Pager technology is becoming more and more sophisticated to suit a broader audience. Pagers have recently added advanced functions such as text messages, two-way communication and email access.

But portable computers and digital PCS (personal communication services) phones are neck-and-neck with pagers in this technology race. They are both adding the same features — and more — as pagers.

Soon, the next generation of mobile phones will be able to do everything that a pager does –record a caller’s phone number so that the user can buzz back, send text messages, retrieve email and access information such as news headlines or stock quotes. While more expensive than pagers, the digital phones planned for release over the next year will also offer customized news, weather and even Web browsing.

The US West model, known as the Web Phone, will retail for between $300 and $400 and will allow a stripped-down version of Web access, among its other features. Other companies that are designing advanced phones include Qualcomm and Motorola , among many others.If you really don’t need a phone but still want paging with advanced services such as email, 3Com’s newest Palm Pilot comes equipped with a built-in modem and Web access. Through special contracts with Web providers, the new Pilot will allow access to a broad array of Web-based services and information.

If all you really want is to receive phone numbers, a pager is still the way to go — costing very little or sometimes nothing at all when you sign up for the service. But it doesn’t cost much more to get a PCS phone that incorporates those features.

The key to deciding whether to buy a pager or a more sophisticated device is to know what you will use it for now and what you might want to do in the future.

A final tip: As the technology advances, pager models that seem sophisticated now will drop dramatically in price, probably within the next year. If you can afford to wait, you may be able to bargain-hunt effectively for products that seem too expensive now.

But beware. Pagers require a service provider, and if the pager market collapses, you could end up with a gadget that is not supported.

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