Cell phones are everywhere. In fact, 96% of U.S. adults own a cell phone and 81% of U.S. adults own a smartphone. This means that almost every adult in the U.S. can send or receive SMS messages (more commonly called text messages) and most can send or receive MMS messages (text messages with multimedia attachments).
Even with this widespread availability, emergency pager systems are still in use by hospital personnel, first responders, and other emergency workers. There are important reasons for businesses and governments to use emergency pager systems in combination with cell phones. Here are three reasons emergency pager systems are still used in the era of cell phones:
Cell phones are radio transmitters and receivers. Because of the bandwidth needed to carry a cell phone call, an area must be blanketed with cell phone towers to handle the radio traffic needed for all the calls in an area.
VOIP can be used with cell phones and relies on broadband Internet signals transmitted from cell towers. Although VOIP is 40% cheaper than traditional phone systems, it requires functioning network infrastructure to work.
A cell tower can be visualized as an antenna surrounded by a circular bubble of coverage. As you enter the bubble, your cell phone syncs up with the tower. As you exit the bubble and enter another bubble, your cell phone syncs up with the next tower. These bubbles are referred to as cells and the interconnected nature of the cells gives rise to the term “cellular network.”
Emergency paging systems, on the other hand, use FM radio signals to send messages from a transmitter to pagers. Because emergency pagers do not rely on cell towers or the computer networks that are needed to coordinate the transfer of signals from tower to tower, emergency pager systems are simpler than cellular networks.
One practical effect of this is that emergency pager systems are redundant with cellular networks, in a good way. During a disaster, FM transmitters used by emergency pagers may still be functioning even if cell service is lost due to damage to cell towers or the computer network. Likewise, the loss of FM transmitters may not necessarily mean that cell service has been lost. This gives emergency workers two independent ways of communicating in the event of an emergency.
In a contained area, such as a hospital or small town, the emergency paging system may be under the total control of the hospital or local emergency service. By hiring an audiovisual installations company to install an FM transmitter and paging system infrastructure, the operator will have a communication system that works independently of the cell phone companies and the cellular networks. This can be critically important during a disaster when the cell phone company is unable to reach the location or is overwhelmed with repair requests.
Because emergency pager systems use FM radio signals, pager signals are less prone to being blocked by buildings and have a longer range than cellular signals. Thus, even if the pager is in a remote or undeveloped location or inside a reinforced building (such as a hospital or government building), a pager signal can often reach the user when a cell signal cannot. This is an enormous advantage when the purpose of pagers are to reach critical personnel wherever they are.
Moreover, because pager range is so much further than cell phone range, an emergency paging system needs fewer transmitters and, in the event that a transmitter is disabled, can send out pager signals from more remote transmitters.
One disadvantage of cellular networks is that the quality and speed is highly dependent on network traffic. During disasters, cellular networks can jam with too much use.
When cellular networks jam, emergency workers can switch to emergency pager systems which are independent of cellular networks and are less likely to jam since pager signals are short. This allows emergency workers to communicate even when cell phone calls and SMS messages cannot go through.
Emergency paging systems are ideal for medical workers, firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers. Paging systems provide a system that is separate from cellular networks. These paging systems are more robust with greater range and less vulnerability to network traffic.