Turning a New Page

Vodafone Puts an End to Its Paging Service

Here is a case of reverse critical mass.

For many people, pagers were the introduction to mobility. They beeped, they shook and they put at least part of the office in the pocket. Suddenly people became reachable wherever they were.

In the smartphone era, paging seems completely out of place. But there are many professionals around the world who still rely on those beeps. In the UK, customers must now find a replacement to a reliable old technology.

This week, Vodafone UK formally announced the shutdown of its paging service. The operator has only about 1,000 pager subscribers — a rounding error to such a large operator — but the discontinuation of the service highlights the fact that pagers still exist and still matter to some people.

Vodafone had planned to sell the unit to the UK’s only other paging firm, PageOne, but the government’s competitive watchdog didn’t back the move. Rather than continue to pursue a deal, the operator decided to move on. Ironically, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority had been concerned about PageOne forming a monopoly in the paging service if it acquired Vodafone’s unit. This will be the case nonetheless.

Many doctors and nurses in hospitals and emergency workers in the field still rely on paging services thanks to their easy maintenance — batteries could last weeks between charges — and secure and dependable reception. In general, pagers just work.

The shutdown of such legacy services is an exercise of weighing the financial costs of continuation against any potential damage to brand goodwill. In Vodafone’s case, the company said it will work to find ways to minimise the inconvenience for customers.

All services have their lifecycles. Some are longer than others. Paging services have been around for more than three decades, a very respectable lifespan in the mobile world. Operators are looking at bigger and bolder shutdowns, such as the shift away from 2G and 3G services in many countries and the discontinuation of analogue TV broadcasts. There will be unavoidable frustrations for consumers along the way.

Although it could linger on for years, the end is near for the classic pager.