David Strom


By David Strom

Notable Technologies Inc.' AirNote paging service is the first product I've seen to package all

the elements that you need to integrate your pager with your computer network in a single

box. While the product has a few flaws and the monthly service charges could top $100, I

still recommend it for the enterprise because of how much the company has done to make

this a one-stop solution.

Why integrate a pager with your computing systems? There are lots of reasons:

You might want to have your file servers page you when certain critical errors -- or events --

occur. Your support staff might want to set up their email systems to forward particular

messages to their pagers. Your customers may want to connect to your computing systems

and need the fast response of pagers. There are other examples, but the key is being able to

closely couple the messaging system of your enterprise with the pager itself.

I tried out the AirNote system for about six weeks, trying to exercise as many of the features

as I could. This was my first time carrying a pager, and I found myself blowing hot and cold

over having one. 

When I was out of the office for two solid weeks, I found that I could return phone calls:

provided that I was near a payphone when I was beeped. In one instance, I was paged just as

I was gettiing on a commuter train, in another case, I was paged when I was literally miles

from a phone. I soon saw the value of having a cellular phone. 

I was impressed with the level of coverage that SkyTel had (the service provider that Notable

uses), including in-building coverage as well. In most cases, SkyTel's network did better than

either RAM Mobile Data's network or most cellular phones: I was able to receive pages in

fairly remote places, including over 100 miles from Manhattan on a remote island that RAM's

network didn't reach. However, if I lived in Wyoming or Montana I might be less satisfied:

SkyTel offers no coverage in either state.

What comes in the AirNote box? Lots of stuff: besides an NEC alphanumeric pager (four

lines of 20 characters each) and activation agreements for the SkyTel service, there is also

three software programs for your Windows, DOS, and Macintosh computers. This software

allows you to compose a message and via modem send to the appropriate pager. And a single

AAA battery is also included. All of this costs $349 list price, which seems a bit high when

compared to simple pagers but is comparable to some of the higher-end pagers.

Other vendors have tried to integrate pagers with computers before and have been less

successful. I looked at Motorola's Embarc unit earlier this year and found it wanting. Notable

has learned from Motorola's mistakes:

-- There is a simple and fast Internet gateway for email users. Embarc was slow and

cumbersome to use, since it was based on X.400 naming schemes and users had to pay more

for faster delivery of messages. Notable's uses for your user ID either your PIN number for

your pager or will create an alias for you so that sending mail is simple: for example, my

alias is strom@airnote.com. No messy X.400 parameters to remember and most email systems

have some connectivity to the Internet. 

You can send up to 120 characters to your pager through the Internet gateway and most

messages get delivered within a minute or two, although I experienced one weekend when the

gateway was down and messages took several days to get through. Longer messages get

truncated. Messages do not include the various routing information that often gets stuffed into

the beginning of a message text -- which is nice given that you only have 120 characters to


One curious situation occurred when I forwarded all my MCI Mail traffic to my pager. Since

the Internet gateway sends an acknowledgement for every page, a single message sent to my

MCI Mail box resulting in a ping-pong of cascading pages as the receipt was then forwarded

back to my pager. AirNote will turn off these acknolwedgements if you ask them.

-- The software for sending pages from your computer for all three platforms is right in the

box. Notable calls this SendNote. Embarc has various modules for different computers that

have to be purchased separately. Other products, such as Fourth Wave Technologies, Inc.

(Troy, MI) WinBEEP have similar software with more features, but are only available for a

single platform (Windows in the case of WinBEEP). SendNote is easier to install and use

than WinBEEP, mainly because it has fewer options.

If you have lots of business associates that are already on SkyTel's paging service and carry

alphanumeric pagers, then you can use this software to get in touch with them as well. That's

a nice feature. 

-- The documentation is well assembled, except for the explanations of the various rate plans

that you can subscribe to. There are nine standard plans, ranging in price from $39.95 to

$124.95 a month that include a pre-set number of received messages ranging from 50 to 200.

Additional messages received will cost between $.60 to $.75 each, depending on which plan

you purchase. The prices are geared towards coverage areas: nationwide coverage costs more

than a particular region. There are lots of additional costs and surcharges for other services,

such as messages sent via the Internet gateway can cost up to $5 a month extra.

AirNote prices its messages in 40-character blocks, meaning that if someone sends you a

400-character message, you will actually get two separate messages on your pager (since the

pager receives them in 240-character blocks) and charged for 10 messages. Got that? Well I

said the pricing model could use some help. I suggest that AirNote adopt a two-tiered model:

one for basic regional coverage and another that includes all the advanced features with

nationwide coverage. 

AirNote has many different means of sending pages to you: There is the standard paging

lowest-common-denominator where you dial an 800 number and enter your PIN and your

own phone number for those pagers that can only display numeric digits. You can call

another 800 number and dictate a message to a live operator. You can also subscribe to an

additional-cost service (for $10 a month plus $.50 a message) whereby you have your own

personal 800 number: callers hear your own greeting and can dictate messages to an operator.

For another fee (ranging from $22.50 to $52.50, depending on the number of messages

received), you can add voice-mail messaging capability. You then receive a page with the

phone number that you call to retrieve your voice messages.

And there are email connections as well: in addition to the Internet gateway mentioned above,

you can send your LAN-based email from Lotus' cc:Mail, Notes, and Microsoft Mail to your

pager. These modules, which are part of the Windows SendNote software, weren't shipping in

time for me to review them for this article. Other companies, including Lotus, are planning on

offering paging gateways, but again it is far from the simple, one-stop shopping experience

that Notable has very notably done.

What's the downside? Well, all this paging is still one-way messaging: you don't know

whether or not your recipient has gotten the message until they call you back (or whatever

you have asked them to do in your page). Without a cellular phone, getting back may prove

daunting, particularly if you are in transit. 

Some of my messages arrived with garbled text, a function of poor radio reception no doubt.

(You can call SkyTel and have an automated service read back pages from the last 99 hours,

but that is a somewhat cumbersome process. And you still need to be near a phone to do so.) 

And the recurring charges can add up. If you purchase all the options your paging bill can be

a hefty monthly charge, and add this to the costs of operating a cell phone and you are

talking some real money. If the thought of carrying a pager plus cell phone doesn't thrill you,

you might be better off taking a look at Radiomail Corp.'s (San Mateo, CA) two-way wireless

email service. Last month the company offered a deal of less than $100 a month for unlimited

nationwide messages, provided you purchased a year's worth along with Ericsson's radio

modem from them. That's sounds attractive, especially when you see what you can buy from

Notable at that price level.

However, I liked having a low-weight, low-powered device that I could use with my various

email systems and get messages quickly to me.

Vital Stats:

Notable Technologies AirNote Pager with SendNote software

$349 plus monthly service charges

shipping since June

Ready for the Enterprise? UP, but could be pricey

UP: Puts everything you need in a single box, including the battery

DOWN: Too many rate plans for most mortals to understand

Competitive analysis: 

UP: Simple Internet gateway is fast and effective

UP: Coverage area includes rural locations and inside buildings

Test bed:

A Dell 486/D50 running Windows, a Macintosh Duo 250, both with modems. 

Vendor info:

Notable Technologies, Inc.

2030 Franklin Street Suite 400

Oakland, CA 94612

510 208 4400

510 444 4493 (fax)

email: info@notable.com

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David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407