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What Is the Difference between Pagers and Beepers?

By Meghan Cunningham
Updated May 16, 2024
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"Pager" and "beeper" are both names for personal one-way telecommunication devices that allow for short numeric and/or text messages to reach their users. The nicknames "beepers" or "bleepers" come from the beeping or bleeping noises that the devices make. The devices are used to notify a person that he or she needs to call someone or that he or she has a message waiting on a voicemail system.

Pagers are generally small devices, approximately 1 inch wide (2.54 centimeters), 2 inches (5.08 centimeter) in length, and 0.5 inches (1.27 centimeter) in diameter. A narrow read-out screen shows a numeric or alphanumeric message, and many pagers have a button one can press to light up the screen. In addition, many have buttons that allow users to scroll backward and forward to find messages. Small clips attached to the back of pagers allow them to be clipped to a user's belt.

"Pager" was the original name used for the device because people used them to page one another. Since pagers make beeping noises to notify their users, the name "beeper" became popular. Not all pagers and beepers just beep, however. They can often be set to vibrate, light up, beep while vibrating, and beep and light up while vibrating.

Pagers were first used in the 1950s and were meant for physicians to receive emergency calls. Originally just numeric devices, someone, such as a nursing assistant, charge nurse, or fellow doctor, would call a physician’s pager and dial a number into a messaging service. The pager would then activate and notify the physician that a message had come through. The physician would call the number that he or she saw on the pager or call a messaging service to receive a voicemail. Nowadays, alphanumeric read-outs are available, and some pagers and beepers are two-way devices.

Very popular during the 1990s, pagers and beepers were cheaper for personal communication than cell phones. Pagers are still used in places where cell phones cannot receive a signal, and by people in emergency or security positions, such as firemen, police, and government employees. They are also still used by medical facilities because they do not interfere with medical equipment such as monitoring equipment or defibrillators.

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Discussion Comments

By andee — On Apr 04, 2012

With cell phones being everywhere I wondered if beepers or pagers were used at all anymore. Now it's the cell phone companies who are making all the money.

It makes sense that hospitals would rely on them since they don't interfere with the medical equipment.

Whenever I visit someone in the hospital I often see a sign reminding people to turn off their cell phones because of the monitoring equipment.

I have often wondered how many people really adhere to that rule because I see many people using their cell phones anyway.

By John57 — On Apr 03, 2012

It's been a long time since I have heard a pager go off in a public setting. You used to know if there was a doctor or emergency service person in a building if their pager went off.

The paging service worked much like our cell phones work today. How much more convenient it must be for physicians to have their own cell phone to receive these messages.

It is probably much more economical too, even though the pager companies probably aren't making nearly as much money.

When it comes to beeps in public places, I wish that more people would put their phones on silence or vibrate.

I have been in many situations where people are reminded to do this, and their phone still goes off and disrupts everyone.

I never minded a pager going off because I knew a physician was needed right away. It is a different story when it comes to a personal cell phone.

By anon256905 — On Mar 23, 2012

There were beepers only that beeped! No phone number to display -- just a beep!

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