About 40,000 voice-paging subscribers in the Washington region will lose their beeper service at 5 p.m. today when Conxus Communications Inc. shuts off its nationwide voice-paging service, Pocketalk. As many as 80,000 customers nationwide will be affected.
Conxus, based in Greenville, S.C., informed its customers and resellers Monday--just five days' notice--that the company is shutting down, three months after filing for bankruptcy protection.
Most customers have been notified, according to a recorded message at Conxus headquarters. But some, like car salesman Kenny Solomon in Lanham, say they weren't aware of the situation until their local paging companies contacted them.
Janice Dunbar, office manager for Quick Page and Cellular of Largo, suspects that many more Pocketalk customers are still in the dark and will be in for a rude awakening this afternoon.
Since Conxus rolled out its Pocketalk service in 1997, the company has primarily resold its portable voice-mail service through paging companies nationwide. Most of these resellers are also vendors of other numeric paging and cellular services.
Phone calls to Conxus's Greenville headquarters were answered by an automated system that didn't allow people to leave a message or speak with a customer service representative. The recorded message advises subscribers to call paging companies to arrange for alternative service, adding that Conxus "will be unable to take any customer service calls, faxes and e-mails at this time."
Industry analysts said yesterday that Conxus's case delivers a painful lesson to the wireless telecommunications industry. Consumer interest in Pocketalk following its introduction two years ago has dissipated. What's left is a network "that wasn't cost-effectively meeting consumer demand," said Darryl Sterling, an analyst for the Yankee Group, a Boston-based telecommunications consulting firm.
The Pocketalk service was available in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago and parts of South Florida. No other companies have voice-paging services that work with the Motorola system Conxus used, Motorola Inc. spokesman Ken Countess said.
And now, resellers, who were notified by Monday, are dealing with the fallout.
"The phone rings like crazy," said Sherry Kim, manager of I.D. Communications in Greenbelt. I.D. Communications has about 150 Pocketalk customers, and many are furious, she said.
Kim left a message for all of her Pocketalk customers last week, offering a $10 rebate for customers who want to trade in Pocketalk pagers and subscribe to a new paging service. She estimates her store will lose several thousand dollars on trade-ins and refunds to customers who paid in advance. Customers who switch services will have to get new numbers, adding another layer of frustration.
Atlantic Paging and Cellular President Romy Singh said that as of yesterday about 100 of his firm's 1,000 Pocketalk customers have switched to new services. He's expecting more to respond tomorrow when the service officially switches off.
Some customers have asked local resellers whether Motorola would reimburse them for their pagers.
Countess said Motorola is reviewing whether it will offer any compensation to the abandoned Pocketalk subscribers.
There's little consolation for Pocketalk customer Richard Betty, president of marketing firm Da Vinci Management Group, based in Laurel. He spent all week contacting his clients to let them know his pager won't work after today.
But there are several thousand potential clients and contacts who have received his marketing materials with the defunct pager number and can't easily be reached. Betty estimates he'll have to spend about $1,000 to reprint literature, business cards and company letterheads.
Staff writer Sarah Schafer contributed to this report.
If you're a Pocketalk subscriber, you can:
Contact the local paging company from which you got the service. The paging company might be offering trade-in deals and rebates.
Check with Motorola at 1-800-548-9954 (available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Motorola manufactures the Pocketalk devices. The company might be able to direct you to alternative paging services.