Money: If you don't need to talk, consider a pager

PAGERS, undergoing something of a revival with new models and adverts aimed at young people, can seem a tempting alternative to a mobile phone. You pay around pounds 60 and that seems to be it. No more bills - the caller pays for calls - and you can always be contacted. But buyers should also be aware that some pagers charge callers so much that people can be deterred from contacting you.

Calling a Page One Minicall pager from a payphone during the day costs a hefty pounds 1.46 a minute. Even the cost of calling from "fixed-line" phones - detailed in the table - may seem high. The table shows these and purchase prices for the three main alpha-numeric pagers, which receive text messages. Calling a Vodafone WordZap! or a BT EasyReach from a street payphone costs around pounds 1 a minute. Calls to pagers from mobile phones can also be costly. Also, pager owners should not assume these prices won't rise.

However, if pagers are starting to look less attractive, there is the rental alternative - which is arguably not as widely promoted. Rented pagers are aimed at business users, but individuals can still use them and they are far cheaper to call. An alphanumeric pager from BT costs pounds 15.26 per month to rent - pounds 183.12 a year - but calls cost only 5p, even from fixed-line payphones.

A rented pager may be a good investment if you receive calls from home a lot. Suppose you average a call a day from home: with a "calling party pays" pager, costs would be pounds 59.99 for the pager plus pounds 200 a year for these calls alone. With a rented pager from BT the total cost would be around pounds 200, a difference of roughly pounds 60 in favour of a rented pager for the first year. In following years the cost might be about the same. The rented pager would still need monthly rent to be paid, whereas the calling party pays pager would already have been paid for in the initial one- off purchase.

If you receive few calls to your pager from your home (the bill for which you might also be paying) then you might do better with a calling party pays pager, whereas if you receive more, the case for a rented pager becomes stronger.

The real low-budget option is a numeric pager: they can't take text messages, only numbers, but they are cheaper. Most important, consider your needs before you choose. You may even reconsider a mobile phone - they may be costlier, but the extra cost may be small and the advantage is obvious - you can talk.

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