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14 Apr 2012 - Last beep from pagers at end of the month

Last beep from pagers at end of the month

Last service provider, SunPage, to go silent after more than 15 years

SINGAPORE – 14 April 2012 By Irene Tham, Technology Correspondent

REMEMBER pagers?

The must-have mobile communication device of the 1990s, so quickly gone out of style, will soon go outof commission.

SunPage, the last paging service provider in Singapore, is set to go silent at the end of this month - after more than 15 years of service and outlasting other paging pioneers Hutchison Intrapage, M1, and SingTel.

The last customers standing - some 10,000 users - are mainly military personnel, national servicemen, doctors and petrochemical factory workers, SunPage told The Straits Times.

Mr Steven Ng, managing director of SunPage, said it was 'no longer commercially viable' to continue its services for the small pool of users. It would, however, continue providing its international calling and roaming services.

The matchbox-size pager was once considered a technological marvel in the 1990s. In 1998, more than 1.36 million subscribers, or nearly one in two Singaporeans, carried them; compared to that, there were only about 900,000 mobile phone users in the same year.

The mobile phone revolution, however, was just around the corner. With free incoming calls offered on most mobile phone plans, the 'one-way' pager lost out. People picked up cellphone subscriptions by the thousands; pagers, meanwhile, faded into white noise.

In less than five years, two paging service providers shuttered their operations.

Hutchison Intrapage - Singapore's smallest paging operator then with 30,000 subscribers - closed in 2001.

This was followed by M1, which ended its paging service at the end of 2003 with only 22,000 customers. When SingTel Paging pulled the plug on the service in mid-2008, the writing was on the wall: With only 26,100 paging customers left, the Age of Pagers was drawing to a close.

Mr Foong King Yew, the research vice-president for communications at Gartner, a consultancy, said that pagers have held out long enough and their impending demise is 'long overdue'.'The ubiquity and affordability of mobile services have already displaced paging services for many years,' he said.

In this age of smartphones, some users still subscribe to pagers due to the peculiarity of their jobs. Or, they have felt no need to upgrade to a mobile phone.

'I just don't like the whole cellphone idea,' said freelance writer Jacqueline Tan, 39. She has used her pager for 13 years, and keeps it on silent most times.

Office building maintenance coordinator Peter Goh, 54, said he is desk-bound and usually goes home after work, so 'it is not difficult to reach me'.

Mr Y. H. Tan, an IT engineer, said that because he is not allowed to take his camera phone with him when he visits his customers' offices, he uses a pager instead.When the service terminates this month, he said he would have to switch to a non-camera phone. Said the 50-year-old, who has been using a pager for 15 years: 'I saw this coming.'

itham@sph.com.sg