Volume 17, Number 8
December 2000

Road Warrior

This Is Not Your Father's Pager!

By Jeffrey Allen

Years ago I had a pager. People could call and leave a number. It would beep at me and transmit the number so that I could return the call. I carried that pager for a few years. Over time I found it less and less useful. Eventually, I stopped carrying it because I seldom used it. The evolution of portable telephone technology made the pager seem archaic. Ultimately, I started to carry a cell phone with me everywhere I went. What in the world did I need with a pager?

Over time, pager technology evolved. The simple pagers that could provide a callback number gave way to the more upscale alphanumeric variety that could receive text messages. I thought that was a pretty neat development, so I tried one of those pagers for a while. When the novelty wore off I found myself using the cell phone all the time and not using the pager. People who called me seemed to prefer leaving a message on my cell phone voice mail to telling the pager operator the message so that it could be transmitted to my pager. I stopped carrying the alphanumeric pager. What in the world did I need with a pager?

In March, I attended TECHSHOW 2000 in Chicago. (TECHSHOW is sponsored by the ABA Law Practice Management Section and co-sponsored by the ABA General Practice Small Firm and Solo Section. ) It is quite a production, and I strongly recommend that you consider attending it in the future. As I wandered through the vendor show, I came across the Bell South wireless booth. They were hawking their interactive paging service in conjunction with a wireless interactive communications device, a small technological marvel known as the RIM 950 pager.

RIM (Research In Motion) has developed a device that allows you to send messages, not just receive them. It is truly a two-way communication device that I think you will find extremely useful. It comes with a belt clip holster, but is small and light enough to carry in a shirt pocket, pants pocket, or jacket pocket. I looked at it with studied disinterest for a while and then left the booth to look at something else. I thought about it and went back. I ultimately arranged to get one and try it out, but I still thought my cell phone was all that I needed. After auditioning the pager, I have concluded that I was wrong. The cell phone does not meet all my needs, and I now know what I need with a pager!

Hey! Talk about wired (well, actually, wireless). Since I got the wireless interactive pager, I have carried it with me all over the country. I am never without it. I have found it convenient and useful, if not invaluable, and I highly recommend that you consider acquiring such a device.

Better in Public

Just to give you some perspective on the utility of these devices, let me tell you about some of the circumstances under which I have used an interactive pager. Most courts require that you either leave your cell phone outside the courtroom or that you turn it off before entering. Given the annoyance of a ringing cell phone and the impropriety of having one ring in a courtroom or of trying to carry on a telephone conversation in a courtroom while court is in session, I certainly will not argue against that requirement. I have, however, often found myself waiting far too long for the court to call my case. With the tone notify signal turned off, the interactive pager makes no sound when it receives (or sends) a message. As a result, I have been able to use it in court to send and receive messages without disturbing anyone. I have also used it in meetings, during lectures, in restaurants, on the street, in cabs, in my doctor's waiting room, in libraries, and in a large assortment of other public places.

Could I have used my cell phone in some of the places that I used the interactive pager? Yes. Could I have used it in all of them? No. Would I want to use it in most of them? No. Some people might consider it rude to use a cell phone in a restaurant or in a meeting. Other places have restrictions against the use of cell phones. Whether or not you consider it rude or concern yourself with the fact that others might think that it is rude, the use of the cell phone in a public place can create serious practical concerns, if not ethical issues. Some of the information I was exchanging was confidential client information; some of it was personal. In either case, using a cell phone and talking out loud in a public place might not prove advisable or even acceptable conduct. Without the interactive pager I would have had to: (1) find a phone booth; (2) find a secure and private phone; (3) find some other means of secure and private communication; or (4) not convey the information at that time.

The interactive pager lets me silently send and receive information. I can use it in public places without offending others and, more significantly, without fear of compromising confidentiality or giving up privacy.

Other Functions

If the interactive pager did no more than what I have already described, I would recommend it to you. In fact, however, the device can do much more. (Please note that the communications capabilities are also a function of the service provider. You will want to make sure that your service provider offers the services you want and that your pager is compatible with the provider's system.)

For example, with the RIM 950 and Bell South's interactive paging service, in addition to sending and receiving messages from other pagers on the same system, I can: (1) send a fax from my pager to your fax machine (or anyone else's, for that matter); (2) have my pager call you on your telephone and deliver a computer-synthesized voice message to you; (3) send an e-mail to any Internet e-mail account or through AOL; or (4) send e-mail to any device capable of receiving e-mail from an Internet account. People trying to reach me through my pager who are on a different system or who do not have a pager can send e-mail to my pager from their pager or from any device capable of sending e-mail (note that e-mail capabilities are no longer limited to computers). Oh yes, one other thing-it is still possible to leave a number or a text message for the pager by making a phone call, just like on the old-fashioned pagers.

As if all of that were not enough, because the interactive pagers are, in fact, small computers, you can add additional software programs to them and further enhance their capabilities. One of the programs that I found and recommend to you is Wolfetech's Pocket Genie (www. wolfetech. com). Pocket Genie utilizes the wireless radio capabilities of the interactive pager to provide Internet access through your pager. No, you don't get a full browser; no, it is not as fast as a T-1 line or DSL or even an ISDN modem. It works pretty well, though, and has proved to be a real convenience as it provides access to a variety of useful information, including driving directions, local restaurants, and even local movie availability and times.

Comparing the Units

Several interactive paging devices are currently on the market and the number continues to increase. Additionally, you have a choice of service providers once you have your pager. Without much research, I found two units to work with in preparing this article: the RIM 950 and the Motorola Pagewriter 2000x. Just as I was finishing the column, I received an evaluation unit of the newly released RIM 957 interactive pager as well. I had the opportunity to explore the capabilities of all three of the paging units. Because each of them was connected to a different service provider, I also was able to compare three service providers: Bell South (www.bellsouthips.com), Skytel (www.skytel.com), and Blackberry (www. blackberry.net) (actually, the Blackberry Solution runs on the Bell South network but offers a different feature set than the standard Bell South fare).

With respect to the three pagers, all three worked fine; each did its job satisfactorily and your decision as to which to get should strictly be a function of your personal preference for the unit and which service provider you want to use. Every provider does not support all of the units. For example, Skytel supports the Motorola unit, but not the RIM units. Bell South supports the RIM 950 but not the RIM 957 (I am informed that Bell South plans to support the RIM 957 sometime next year). Blackberry supports the RIM 950 and the RIM 957 but not the Motorola.

Weight. The RIM 950 is the lightest of the three units. The RIM 957 is next, and the Motorola unit is the heavyweight of the group.

Configuration. The Motorola unit is a clamshell that has self-contained protection for the screen; closed, it has a footprint similar to the RIM 950 (but a bit larger) and opened, it has a footprint slightly larger than the RIM 957. The RIM units have no built-in cover to protect the screen.

Keyboard. The two RIM units have identical keyboards. They are small but easily operated by the use of your thumbs while the unit is cradled in the fingers of both of your hands. Selections are made by the use of a jog wheel on the side of the device that rolls to make a choice and pushes in to select it. The keyboard uses dual function keys, and it requires two key strokes for numbers, punctuation marks, and other symbols. Although the Motorola unit has a larger keyboard, it still is most easily used with your thumbs while held similarly to the RIM units. The Motorola keyboard is enhanced by a "joy button" for easy navigation. The Motorola keyboard is further enhanced by the use of separate number keys allowing you to enter numbers with a single keystroke. Punctuation marks and symbols still require a second keystroke except for commas, periods, and question marks. Both the RIM and the Motorola keyboards use the "qwerty" configuration that you find as standard on most keyboards and old-fashioned typewriters.

Display. The RIM 950 has the smallest screen. The RIM 957 has the largest screen. The RIM 950 does not use glare-free plastic for the screen while the RIM 957 and the Motorola 2000X have that feature. The RIM 950 is the most difficult to read in less than optimal light conditions. All of the units allow for some ability to choose the size of the characters on the screen. The two RIM units offer a choice of small and smaller. For those of you who, like me, have reached the point where it is difficult to read without magnifying glasses except in the brightest sunlight, you will find that you need your glasses to read the RIM screens under most lighting conditions. The Motorola unit lets you adjust to much larger character sizes, and I can actually read messages without having to get out my reading glasses, which is a real convenience.

Personally, I think the RIM 957 is pretty slick and I like the adjustable size of the Motorola 2000x a lot, but I carry the RIM 950 most of the time because I prefer its size and I like the Bell South service. The decision will be a bit more difficult when Bell South supports the RIM 957.

Oh, one final comment: many of you have Palm devices or their derivatives and use them essentially for nothing other than contact and calendar information. These interactive pagers have PIM software available that will allow you to keep contact and calendar information in the pager and synchronize it to your computer. In other words, if you just use the Palm device for contact and calendar information, the interactive pager can also effectively replace the Palm device.

Bottom line, folks: This is a must-have device. When you decide to get one, look into the services that are available in your area. I strongly recommend that you get one of the services that works nationally so that you will be able to use the device when you travel. Most of the national services cover all major metropolitan areas and a fair amount of surrounding geography. Most providers have a basic feature set with additional capabilities for additional charges. Decide what will work best for you. If you are not sure, start with the basic feature set and add on as you feel the need. Generally, service providers will happily upgrade your service at any time.

Jeffrey M. Allen practices law in Oakland, California. He is the special issue editor of GPSolo magazine's Technology & Practice Guide issues.

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