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Asia Minute: Japan Ends its Era of Phone Pagers

Senior Airman Andrew Lee
U.S. Air Force photo

Today marks the end of an era in Japan. The very last phone paging service in the country stopped operating just after midnight.

Pagers. Beepers. Those dinosaurs that predate cell phones lingered a little bit longer in Japan than you may have thought —all the way up to last night.

Mobile phones have dominated for more than two decades, but the pager business still managed to hang on in Japan for more than fifty years — since 1968.

By the late 1980’s, they could send messages including text characters. And then the business exploded in Japan thanks to a new client base – largely high school girls who jumped on the texting and turned the pagers into a “must-have” accessory.

Peak use in the country topped more than 10 million in 1996 before the revolution of the cell phone.

Tokyo Telemessage operated Japan’s last pager network — reporting a client base at the end of about 1500.

In some places, one of the last holdouts for pagers is hospitals.

Bloomberg reports the British National Health Service alone uses about 10% of the telephone pagers still in use in the world.

Just last week, the Kansas City Star reported that about 500 doctors in the Indiana University Health system still use pagers — although the plans are to phase them out. The associate chief medical information officer at IU Health told the paper “drug dealers and physicians are the last two groups to use pagers, and drug dealers moved off of them 10 to 15 years ago.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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