Pager Level of service

The level of service provided by the paging carrier depends on the type of pager. The three types of pagers offered today are digital pagers, alphanumeric pagers, and two-way pagers. Some old-tone pagers are also still in use. Table 1 shows typical monthly pager rates:

Tone pagers

Tone pagers, or beepers, were initially used by people whose professions required them to be available at all hours, such as doctors. Tone pagers give off a tone only; they cannot send numeric messages. Tone pagers are definitely a telecom antiquity; it has been my experience that out of a hundred businesses, five or six still have tone pagers.

Save money on tone pagers
Ironically, tone pagers often cost more than digital pagers. During the past few years, competition has driven the cost of digital pagers down, but tone pagers are a small noncompetitive sector of the overall paging industry. Carriers and customers alike tend to ignore their tone pagers, and no one ever tries to negotiate lower pricing.

Replace tone pagers with digital pagers
Consider the following example: A West Texas oil drilling company used 20 tone pagers. When an employee out in the oilfield was paged, he knew it was time to return to the office. The system worked fine, and the company never felt the need to upgrade to numeric pagers. Since the 1970s, the company had been paying $15 per month for each pager. Eventually the company replaced the tone pagers with digital pagers for only $7 per unit. This change saved the company $160 per month.

Digital pagers

Digital pagers, also called numeric pagers, relay numeric digits to the user—normally, a phone number. Most pagers in service today are digital pagers. Digital pagers normally sell for $25 to $100, but carriers will often give the pager to a customer who signs a contract. Monthly service for a digital pager costs between $5 and $10.

Alphanumeric pagers

Alphanumeric pagers display numeric and text messages across a small LCD screen with up to nine lines. Many carriers broadcast news, weather, and stock quotes to the pager throughout the day. Alphanumeric pagers also come loaded with such features as distinct rings and vibrations, an alarm, message memory, calendar functions, and phone-number storage. They cost between $100 and $300 each. The expense for service is normally $10 to $20 per month.

Two-way pagers

Two-way pagers, such as Motorola’s Page Writer, provide traditional alphanumeric paging capability, but also give the user the ability to check e-mail, surf the internet, and read voice-mail messages that have been converted to text messages. Two-way pagers look like miniature laptop computers and even include a small keyboard. These pagers cost around $400, and service costs between $25 and $35 per month.

Long distance call

Just like landline calls, long-distance calls on cellular phones cost more than local calls. Long-distance charges on a wireless phone generally cost $0.10 to $0.25 per minute. The boundaries are different, however. Cellular home areas might be 10 times larger than a landline local calling area. A person calling from Vineland, New Jersey, to Philadelphia is subject to long-distance charges on a landline phone. Because both cities are in the same home area, a call on a mobile phone is treated as home airtime and is essentially a local call. But a cellular call from Vineland to Pittsburgh would be subject to long-distance charges in addition to home airtime charges.

Save money on wireless long distance
Cellular long distance is not as competitive as landline long distance, so callers do not have as many ways to cut the cost. Most users do have a few choices, however. First, call your carrier directly and ask for lower rates. Carriers usually have two or three different options. If you are still not satisfied, you can look into other long-distance carriers.

Many of the wireless carriers allow you to use a different company for landline long-distance. Your wireless provider can tell you which long-distance carriers are available. For example, Ameritech Cellular allows its Michigan customers to choose long-distance carriers such as WorldCom to carry the calls. If you already use WorldCom as your landline long-distance provider, your cellular long-distance charges can be billed on your long-distance bill.

Caller ID and calling party pays
Few things are more frustrating than having a phone solicitor call you on your cellular phone. They read their sales script to you, and you have to pay for the call. Most digital wireless phones are able to use caller ID. Your phone displays the number of the caller when your phone rings. If you do not recognize the phone number, you can refuse to answer the call. Screening out unwanted calls is the main purpose of caller ID. By avoiding these calls, you do not have to pay for them. Another way to reduce the cost of inbound calls is to use a fairly new feature called calling party pays.

Calling party pays is a so-called advanced feature, and wireless companies charge a monthly fee of $2 to $5 a month for this service. Once you have signed up for calling party pays, callers cannot reach you by directly dialing your number. If they dial your normal wireless phone number, they will hear a recording that explains that you have enrolled in a caller-pays program. In order to reach you, they must hang up and redial using:

1 + area code + your mobile number

The additional dialing is intended to tell callers this is like a long-distance call—they will pay for it. The caller is normally billed $0.25 a minute, and the charges appear on the caller’s local telephone bill.

Most businesses that use a lot of intracompany calling are better off without calling party pays. With the plan, their wireless bills are lower, but their local telephone bills will increase. With calling party pays, they pay $0.25 to call their own employees, who are in the field using wireless phones. If they cancel this plan, the call is billed on the wireless phone bill as home airtime. If the user has not exceeded the number of home airtime minutes included in the rate plan, the call is essentially free. Otherwise, the call will be billed under normal home airtime rates, which are always lower than calling-party-pays rates.

Full minutes or partial minutes
When shopping for a new wireless service provider, one should consider how the carrier bills the call time. Cellular calls have traditionally been billed in full-minute increments. A 2.5-minute call is billed as a 3-minute call. In the late 1990s, Nextel started billing in 1-second increments. The customer is only billed for two-and-a-half minutes for a 2.5-minute call. Most wireless phone calls are very brief, so the billing increment significantly impacts the actual monthly cost of a wireless phone.

Free first minutes

When PCS service was new, some carriers gave the first minute of a call at no charge. The free first minute was designed to stimulate more calling volume and, therefore, more revenue for the carriers. To find out the impact of the free first minute, simply look at the number of calls you made in a given month. The first minute of that call would have been free with a different carrier. Subtract the number of first minutes from your total airtime and recalculate the bill.

Free nights and weekends
Some carriers offer free nights and weekends for a flat fee of approximately $10 each month. Look at your call detail and add up the current cost of night and weekend calling. If it is regularly more than $10, you should sign up for this discount plan