More People Using Pagers Create Beeper Traffic Jam

One-fifth of all Americans could own a pager by 2000

A SUPERMOM fires her schedule at her bewildered looking children as she attempts to get them ready for school. One daughter interrupts, producing a small electronic device from behind her back. ``Mom, we've got a better idea,'' she suggests. ``We'll page you.''

This soon-to-be-released television commercial is part of a new advertising campaign by Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., that attempts to add working parents to the list of prospective beeper users.

If working moms start to walk around with pagers in their purses, they will join one of the fastest-growing communications markets.

About 18.7 million pagers are currently in use in the United States, and industry analysts estimate that the number will increase to 50 million by 2000. This would mean that nearly one-fifth of all Americans would own a pager.

Unfortunately, the large number of pagers crowding the airwaves has already resulted in somewhat of a beeper traffic jam, reducing the speed and efficiency of the electronic devices. Manufacturers of pagers worry that, in the future, this problem will only get worse.

So in order to address this problem, Motorola on Sept. 13 introduced a new, faster coding format for pagers called ``FLEX.''

According to the company, FLEX has nearly five times the channel capacity of the present system, enabling it to handle a higher volume of pagers in use. Motorola is the largest manufacturer of electronic pagers, producing 85 percent of those now in use.

Future pagers will do more

Motorola considers FLEX important because it can provide a foundation for the growth of more advanced paging technologies, such as alphanumeric paging, in which the pager can transmit words as well as numbers, and two-way paging, in which users can communicate with just their pagers.

Micheal Walker, the executive director of the National Paging and Personal Communications Corporation, says that if Motorola had not introduced the FLEX system, pagers would have rapidly been rendered inefficient.

``The timeliness of receiving a page has always been their selling point,'' Mr. Walker says. ``It got so crowded in some markets during peak hours that it was taking 30 to 40 minutes to receive a page.''

He adds that FLEX is especially important for alphanumeric paging, which takes longer than numeric paging because someone within the system must manually enter the text in order for it to reach its destination.

Motorola wants to promote alphanumeric paging, which the company says it expects will become increasingly popular among businesspeople in the future. According to a recent Motorola marketing study, the percentage of alphanumeric pagers in use will increase from its current 7 percent to 40 percent in the next six years.

FLEX is also a plus for pager carriers, according to Eric Zimits, a paging-industry analyst with Volpe Welte, a San Francisco-based investment-banking firm. The higher channel capacity FLEX provides not only gives pager users faster service, but it also means that Motorola can serve more customers in any given area.

Competition hovers

Although the company controls a large part of the pager market, competition among different forms of wireless communication is growing. The wireless-communications market is expanding at a rate of about 40 percent a year, according to Jennifer Hansard, marketing manager for Motorola.

``It's a free-for-all out there for what the public is going to do for enhanced wireless systems,'' says Jack Robertson, an editor for Electronics Buyers News in Washington. He adds that the new, faster coding format would most certainly give pagers an edge in that battle.

``The downsized, lean-and-mean organizations of the '90s demand more from their people,'' says Rob Pollack, marketing director for Motorola.

``That means more meetings, more travel, more time away from conventional telephones,'' he says, adding that a person's ability to reach another by telephone without a pager averages only about 20 percent.

Although businesspeople still constitute the bulk of the pager market, Motorola's marketing studies indicate that personal-pager use will increase dramatically in several years.

As the number of two-career families continues to grow, Motorola hopes to demonstrate that pagers are an indispensable parenting aid for moms and dads who need a faster way to stay in touch with their children.

Even now, many American teenagers regard having a pager as necessary to be accepted into the ``in'' crowd. And with the market growing ever larger, their parents may not be far behind.

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