Country’s last-remaining pager company announces it’s shutting down its service, but users still have a couple more months to say their good-byes.

Consumers in Japan were a little slow to adopt smartphones, partly because of how advanced the country’s flip phones were compared to the ones available elsewhere in the world. Nowadays, though, pretty much every adult member has switched over to a smartphone, tossing aside older pieces of tech.

Oh, except for the roughly 1,500 people in Japan who still use a pager, or “pocket bell” as they’re called in Japan.

Pagers caught on big in Japan during the mid ‘90s, and it’s not too hard to see why. In a country where commutes of an hour or more aren’t unusual, and where taking personal phone calls at work is almost universally frowned on, pagers were a way to stay connected to friends and family without having to go all the way back home to check your messages. The flexible way in which characters and numbers are read in Japan made it easy to use even purely numerical pagers as rudimentary text messaging devices (for example, since 3 in Japanese is san and 9 is kyu, you could page your friend with 999, three nines, to say Sankyu/”Thank you”), and with the country’s low crime and theft rates, there wasn’t much fear of someone swiping your pager.

Pager service was first introduced to Japan by the government-operated Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation in 1968, but it wasn’t long until other telecommunications companies like NTT stepped into the industry. Pagers peaked in 1996, when the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications says there were roughly 10.61 million service contracts in Japan. However, their popularity quickly faded with the introduction of compact, high-spec feature phones, and competition and technological advances eventually brought their prices down enough that even teenagers could talk their parents into buying one for them, something that’s now happening with smartphones.

50 years after pagers’ Japanese debut, there’s only one company in the entire nation that’s still offering service: Tokyo Telemessage, based in the capital’s Shinbashi neighborhood. Its 1,500 or so loyal customers, many of whom work in the medical industry, have continued using their pagers for reasons including their lack electromagnetic wave transmission and reliability inside buildings even where smartphone signals are spotty. However, as part of a gradual phase-out, Tokyo Telemessage stopped accepting applications for new service contracts five years ago, and it now has so few clients that its pager operations are no longer a viable business venture, and will instead be shifting its focus to wireless communications technology for disaster response teams.

▼ A Tokyo Telemessage pager

On December 3, the company announced that it is officially placing its pager service on moratorium, with the end of September 2019 also set to become the end of Japanese pager service. The development, though long considered an eventual inevitability, still sent ripples of nostalgia through Japan, with some who still haven’t tossed out their pagers, whether or not they still use them, sharing photos online.

Granted, it’s highly likely that even among Tokyo Telemessage’s remaining yet dwindling 1,500 customers, most of them don’t rely on a pager for their pager as their only means of communication, but as a supplementary and/or work-related way of stating connected. Either way, though, their days with the now-dulled pieces of cutting-edge technology from yesteryear are now numbered.

Source: NHK News Web
Featured image: Tokyo Telemessage
Top image: Wikipedia/Vitachao

Insert image: Tokyo Telemessage
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he can’t hear the phrase “pocket bell” without thinking of that weird scene in Escaflowne where people can page their friends stuck in other worlds.

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