Vodafone axes pager business 'based on ageing technology'

Operator had only about 1,000 customers left using mobile technology that became popular in the 1980s

Vodafone is to shut down its pager business after failing to receive backing from the competition watchdog to sell the dwindling division that relies on old technology popular in the 1980s.

The telecoms group said it was ditching plans to sells the business to Capita’s PageOne, and would instead close it after the Competition and Markets Authority announced plans to launch an in-depth investigation into the deal.

“Due to the expense involved with a prolonged investigation, Vodafone will not pursue the transaction and has made the decision to close down this business, which is based on ageing, standalone technology no longer supported by network vendors,” a spokesperson for the company said.

“We will do our utmost to minimise the impact on the 1,000 or so customers still using the service.”

Once a symbol of status and wealth, the use of beeping pagers rapidly declined in the late 1990s as mobile phones became more widespread and text messaging a quick and casual way to communicate. Since then, demand for pagers has further diminished with the rise of smartphones and tablets.

However, pagers are still favoured by some because of their reliability. Where mobile phone networks can be patchy or slow, the separate paging network offers greater reliability in reception and reach, especially in rural areas. Compared with modern smartphones, pager batteries also last much longer.

Users include medical staff, emergency responders, lifeboat crews and infrastructure companies such as EDF Energy. Paging services have also been popular with birdwatchers, delivering information about new sightings as soon as they are recorded.

Vodafone’s withdrawal from the market will mean PageOne is the UK’s only remaining supplier of paging services across a wide area.

Commenting before the company surprise decision to pull the plug on the division, the CMA said it was concerned that a merger of the two would result in price rises for customers and a poorer service.

“Capita and Vodafone both supply wide-area paging services to customers, including emergency services and hospitals. Customers rely on pagers because issues such as coverage, reliability and battery life mean that alternative technologies, like mobile phones, are not suitable,” the regulator said.

“The Competition and Markets Authority’s initial investigation into the merger has found that it could lead to a substantial lessening of competition. After the merger, customers could face price rises and reduced quality of coverage.”

Vodafone said it was puzzled by the decision. “This seems to be a surprising decision considering that this market has been contracting for some time and no other country in Europe has more than one wide area paging network,” it said.

A spokesperson for PageOne said the company was “disappointed” the deal was not approved by the CMA, but declined to comment further.


Angela Monaghan

The GuardianTramp

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