Paging bills

Paging bills are the simplest telecom bills to understand. The bill shows each pager number with an itemized list of additional charges. These four charges are usually listed for each pager: equipment rental, service, maintenance, and usage.

Some paging carriers do not itemize their charges. They just give one line item for each pager, in which case the charge is normally for equipment rental and service. Some Mom-and-Pop carriers simply show the total charge on one line, such as “pager service for 26 units … $260.” The customer should always request an itemized bill in order to verify all of the charges.

The sample bill in Figure 1 shows that the customer is paying $5 per month for paging service and another $5 per month for equipment rental. This customer could save $10 per month by purchasing the pagers instead of renting them. One of the pagers has an 800 number that is being billed indirectly by the paging company. The bill also notes “001 Pager Contract,” indicating a volume or term contract has been signed. The bill gives no detail, but the carrier’s customer service representatives should be able to explain the terms of the contract quickly.

Figure 1: Typical pager bill.

Equipment rental

Some customers purchase pagers (usually from their carrier), but most customers rent them from their carrier. Businesses watching their cash flow may want to avoid the up-front cost of purchasing new pagers, but paging companies steer most of their businesses toward renting. Equipment rental for a local digital pager costs between $3 and $10 per month.

Rent or buy
One easy way to reduce monthly paging costs is to purchase pagers instead of renting them. The only real advantage of renting pagers is that carriers will repair damaged pagers at little or no cost to the user. If repairs are needed to customer-owned pagers, the customer has to foot the bill. But pagers are fairly low-tech and do not require much maintenance.

For example, a West Coast architectural firm rented 15 digital pagers from its carrier. Each month, the company paid $5 for rental and $6 for service. After performing a miniaudit of its telecom expenses, the company was surprised to learn it had spent more than $1,800 in rental fees over a 2-year period. When it first began using pagers, the company could have purchased all 15 pagers for no more than $750. It presented its findings to its carrier, which ended up giving the firm the pagers for free. Other paging companies may not have been as generous, but they would at least be willing to sell the pagers at a greatly discounted price.


Paging providers bill for service in advance. This is the basic charge for paging; it covers the cost for the tower to transmit messages to the pager. The monthly service for a digital pager with local coverage is usually only $3 to $5.

PRP—Insurance for your pager
Pager maintenance programs, also known as pager replacement programs (PRP), and pager protection, function like an insurance policy. If the pager is lost, damaged, or stolen, the paging company will replace the unit for free. PRP for a digital pager usually costs $1 to $3 per month.

Save money on pager replacement programs
Consider this example: A northern California hospital used more than 100 pagers for its nursing staff. The hospital’s large volume allowed it to negotiate a low rate of $5 per month for each digital pager, which included service and rental. The pager salesman persuaded the hospital telecom manager to purchase PRP for each unit at a cost of $1 per unit and a $25 deductible to replace a pager.

The manager later realized that the nurses were very gentle with the pagers. Only one pager was lost or damaged each month. To replace the one lost pager, the hospital had to pay the $25 deductible. After adding this $25 to the $100 already spent for PRP, the hospital was spending $125 each month to replace one pager it could have bought for only $50. The manager quickly canceled PRP and ended up saving the hospital more than $1,000 in the first year. Five nurses would have to lose their pagers each month before PRP was cost effective (see Table 1).

Table 1: Pager Replacement Programs: Calculating the Break-Even Point

To determine whether or not your organization should keep or cancel pager protection, calculate your own break-even point. Then, find out how many pagers are lost or damaged each month; if you do not know, the paging company should be able to tell you.

Companies that are rough on their pagers should keep PRP. A company of rugged construction workers who destroy half a dozen pagers each month may actually save money by using PRP.

Paging companies originally charged customers a flat rate each month, but over the past few years, this has changed. Today, some providers also charge as much as $0.25 per message, but they generally give the user the first 100 messages at no charge.

Paging coverage areas

Paging service is offered in specific geographic areas. Unlike other telecom services, these areas are not dictated by government regulations. Paging service areas are only limited by the number of towers the paging company is willing to build. Paging providers usually divide their coverage offerings into three categories: local, regional, and nationwide. Table 1 shows typical monthly pager rates for a digital pager.

Table 1:Typical Monthly Rates for Digital Pagers

In metropolitan areas, customers can choose between numerous carriers, but in remote areas customers may have only one choice. In this case, there is little leverage to negotiate pricing. The paging company is the only game in town, and it can set its rates without being influenced by external factors, such as competition.

Local coverage
The most basic, and therefore most economical, paging area is called the local coverage area. Local coverage is usually the size of a small state or metropolitan area. Figure 1 shows Central Link’s local coverage area in the Waco, Texas, market. The paging towers broadcast in all directions, which results in a circular pattern around the edges of the coverage area.

Figure 1: Local coverage area for paging in Waco, Texas.

Statewide coverage
In large states, paging companies divide the coverage into two or three local areas. California is split into a northern and southern area. For the pager to work in both areas, the customer must pay for statewide coverage that costs a few dollars more than local coverage. Depending on the carrier, Texas has about seven local coverage areas. Paying for statewide coverage ensures that the pager will work in all seven areas. Figure 23.2 shows Page One’s statewide coverage in Texas. Note that the pager will not work in some rural areas that are not reached by Page One’s towers.

Figure 2: Statewide paging coverage map in Texas.

Regional paging
Most nationwide paging companies divide the country into four regions. Each region contains a dozen separate local coverage areas. This scenario is called regional coverage, and, of course, costs a few dollars more than local coverage. Figure 3 shows Arch Paging’s different regions.

Figure 23.3: Regional coverage area for Arch Paging.

Nationwide paging
No paging supplier offers true nationwide paging. Nationwide means the pager will work in the nation’s largest cities and usually along major interstates, but the service is choppy in remote areas. In 1983, SkyTel first offered nationwide paging, but today, many other carriers offer this service