Sprints New Mobile Child Locator Service

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 yards.

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 service.

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 United States.

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 phone models.

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.

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