By Sinead Carew
Sprint Nextel Corp., the No. 3 U.S. mobile service, on Thursday
introduced wireless service to help parents find their children, as it
makes a bid to expand its presence in the family market.
The service lets parents look at maps on their cellphones or computers
to locate their children who also carry mobile phones. Parents can
also program the service to automatically send them text messages at
specific times each day to confirm that their children have arrived at
home or in school.
The so-called Family Locator service aims to bring in revenue from a
location technology Sprint and its rivals are required by law to put
into cellphones so that safety workers can pinpoint the location of
911 emergency service callers.
Sprint's service shows data such as street addresses to which a child
is close and the estimated accuracy of the reading, which could range
from a radius of 2 yards around the child to a radius of hundreds of
It also notifies children via text message that their parents have
checked up on their location.
Entertainment conglomerate Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS - news), which is
renting space on Sprint's network to sell services under its own
brand, said last week it plans go after the family market with
services including a location offering that is similar to Sprint's
Mobile packages designed for families have become key to growth at
U.S. operators, which currently sign up as many as 60 percent of
their new subscribers via family discount plans, according to
technology research firm, Yankee Group.
But Sprint has trailed its bigger rivals in this respect, said Yankee
analyst Marina Amoroso, who estimates that it has a roughly 12 percent
share of the family plan market, or less than half that of Cingular
Wireless and Verizon Wireless.
"Sprint has essentially underperformed in that space. It does not have
nearly as much market share," Amoroso said.
Because the Disney service, which launches in June, also lets parents
control when and for how much time their children can use their
cellphones, it will appeal to a different type of family, said
Amoroso; she believes that some parents who just want location
information may favor Sprint's offer.
Amoroso noted that Sprint's service is the first of its kind in the
But the $9.99 monthly service fee, and a slim consumer demand for
people-finding services, may limit Sprint's success at using the
latest offer to boost its family customer numbers, Amoroso said.
"Before this service comes down in price, I think it will be
marginal," she said, estimating that about 2 percent of
U.S. subscribers are interested in people-locating services.
Disney has not said how much it will charge for this feature, aside
from promising competitive prices.
Sprint said its location service would work on 17 of its phones and
these phones could be used to locate children using as many as 30
Sprint's biggest rival, Cingular, is owned by AT&T Inc. and BellSouth
Corp . Verizon Wireless, the second biggest U.S. mobile provider is
owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L).
Sprint's shares were down 17 cents at $26.08 in late afternoon trade
on the New York Stock Exchange.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new
articles daily. And, discuss this and other topics in our forum at