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Resurrecting a '90s tone pager with a GSM module

My mission: to turn a 1990s pager into a 2020s pager, with a little help from Twilio, a Raspberry Pi, and a GSM module.

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I have a Vodapage Tonecall Duo pager, a simple 'beeper' (i.e. tone pager) from the mid-1990s. This pager is, in itself, useless as the UK Vodapage network closed in 2018.

My aim is to resurrect this pager by replacing its paging circuit with a GSM module, thus allowing it to receive phone calls. Combining this with a simple Twilio alert system should allow me to receive notifications (e.g. of unread emails) on the move.

Whilst finishing off my last project - "Web connectivity on a 30-year-old brick phone", I suddenly had a brainwave - could I make a streamlined version that simply beeps a pager (via a Twilio Programmable Voice call) when I receive an email, or when a nominated Twitter account posts a tweet? 

Traditional wide-area paging (i.e. public paging services that work anywhere) is nearly obsolete in the UK - there is only one provider left as of May 2022, and subscribers need to pay a monthly subscription. 

However, I reckon it's possible to resurrect an old 'tone pager' (i.e. a device that simply bleeps when a message is received) by replacing its innards with a cheap GSM module, such as the SIM800L. Then, all that's needed (in theory!) is for me to wire up the module to the pager's buzzer and to a battery, pop in a SIM card, and start making calls to it from Twilio.

Updates will follow when I get hold of an old tone pager...

  • A brief look at the pager

    James Fossey05/22/2022 at 10:33 0 comments

    My Tonecall Duo pager arrived in the post two days ago, and I've eagerly taken it apart to see how easy it might be to replace the paging circuit with a GSM module.


    First, a bit about the pager itself - it was sold (or, more accurately, leased) on the UK Vodapage network. This was one of four wide-area paging networks that operated in the UK in the heyday of paging (1990s). This particular pager was made in 1994, and is in excellent condition. Assuming the original owner kept the number active, it would have been usable until March 2018, when Vodafone shut down their paging network.

    The pager powers on and beeps (extremely loudly). It has a built-in clock, but I can't work out how to set the time on it (maybe it was set automatically over the network?)

    Dismantling the pager was very easy - I just needed to remove two screws and the back cover then gracefully fell off. Inside, I was thrilled to discover that the paging circuit can simply be unplugged, and the gap left behind is just the right size for a SIM800L GSM module!

    The pager with its paging circuit unplugged (note how it simply plugs in to the main board)

    The main difficulty will be wiring up the SIM800L module to the beeper and/or vibrator, and generating the right voltage to power the module. For the latter, I aim to use a 3.7V LiPo battery in the existing AA battery holder.
    The SIM800L module (red) fits neatly where the paging circuit used to be!

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