It turns out that 10% of the world’s surviving pagers are in the NHS and apparently we could save some money (not very much money, but maybe more meaningful in the context of an NHS trust telecoms budget) by replacing them with an app. I’m really not so sure about that. As Geoff Hall, of the Informatics Leeds Cancer Centre, says:

“Pagers seem like old technology, but they still exist purely for their inherent high levels of resilience. They are simple to use, i.e. calls can be pushed out by ringing one number, there is an audit trail, the device is easy to carry, and the battery lasts months, not hours. They do only one task, but they do it well. They provide a last line of defence”.

One thing I would also say is that they operate in low frequency bands that cover the broad acres and penetrate through walls deep into buildings. Moving the application onto a cellular network would probably require quite a few trusts to get their MNO to install in-building infrastructure, which is a serious pain in a heavily serviced medical environment full of stuff that you’re not meant to use radio transmitters around. Alternatively they could use WiFi or something funky like MuLTEFire but that all costs money and involves complicated installs.

I do wonder if this might be a use case for one of the new low-power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies. These were invented for Internet of Things applications, but reliably delivering small and even small-ish data payloads with stringent coverage and in-building requirements and minimal power draw is a job right up their street. It would also be an interesting exercise to decide what you’d actually want in a pager now.

Here’s a brutal and harrowing account of, among other things, the huge gap between “having an app” and “having an emergency service”.

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