Japan Completely Disconnected Paging

After 50 years of work in Japan, the paging service ceases. Tokyo Telemessage, the last operator in the country, began to disconnect the service at midnight on October 1, 2019. In recent years, the tiny device was used mainly by medical institutions employees, where cellular communication is not encouraged due to poor connection and interference with medical equipment. Pagers operate at longer wavelengths (for example, at a frequency of 144 MHz), therefore they provide a more stable signal reception even in places with unavailable cellular network. Therefore, it is faster to send an emergency message to a pager. The device does not need to be charged, only to change the AAA battery once a month.

The company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation, which at that time was a monopolist in the communications market started sales of the so-called “pokeberu” (“pocket bells”) in Japan in 1968. To contact the subscriber, it was necessary to dial the pager number from a landline phone – then the device gave a notifying sound signal.

Initially, pager services were used by companies to communicate with their employees outside the office. But since the late 1980s, their popularity has grown because pagers have learned to display short messages by creatively combining numbers and text characters. In the 1990s, high school girls who came up with many ingenious combinations for messaging caused a real pager boom in Japan. Among the short numerical messages was “33414“, which in Japanese can be pronounced “samisie,” which means “I am lonely”. The other is “999”, a series of three (“san”) nines (“kyu”) – “sanku” like the English (“thank you”).

In 1996, the number of pager subscribers exceeded 10 million. However, from around this time, paging began to lose popularity with the advent of mobile phones. Although NTT Docomo’s mobile pager ceased nationwide service in 2007, Tokyo Telemessage continued to operate in Tokyo and neighboring Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa prefectures. Now, this era is a thing of the past.

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