Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sprint can help track the kids

A number of articles today about a new service from Sprint Nextel called Sprint Family Locator, which "will use Global Positioning System technology to let parents see where their phone-toting children are and, perhaps more importantly, where they’re not." The Kansas City Star writes that it is "the first phone-based “geofencing” service for consumers."

According to the article, Sprint "is partnering with California-based WaveMarket to provide the service." The $10 a month service requires an app downloaded to a parent’s phone. "Parents can log in and “ping” their child’s phone to see where they are. The parent application runs on 18 existing Sprint and Nextel phones. The service shows the child’s location on a map on the parent’s phone, pinpointing him or her within yards if the phone is outside. It’s less accurate inside, picking up the location within a block or two instead of feet."

In addition, the Family Locator service can send parents "an e-mail or text message if a child isn’t where he’s supposed to be at a certain time." The Disney Mobile MVNO, which uses the Sprint network, will also offer a similar service.

Ken Hyers at ABI Research thought "child-finder-type services may well lead the pack of new location-based services." He said, “It’s probably one of the most robust of the consumer services out there. It speaks to the hands-on parent. All of us are a little bit nervous about where the children are. A service that allows you to track your kid for $10 a month? That seems like a bargain to have that peace of mind.”

David Chamberlain at In-Stat added, “If we don’t get really upset and start screaming about the privacy issues, there are some really interesting applications that can be developed.” Chamberlain believed "Location services could become a “killer app” for some consumers," and "services like Family Locator might be enough to convince some consumers to move from one wireless service to another."

In the Chicago Tribune, Rob Enderle at the Enderle Group said, "It's a huge market and largely untapped right now. Kids want phones, but nothing really deals with their parents' concerns. This will quickly spread to all of the wireless services." wrote that according to Yankee Group, "mobile packages designed for families have become the key to growth at U.S. operators, which currently sign up as many as 60 percent of their new subscribers via family discount plans."

Yankee Group analyst Marina Amoroso noted that "Sprint has trailed its bigger rivals in this respect," and estimated "it has a roughly 12 percent share of the family plan market or less than half that of Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless."

She said, "Sprint has essentially underperformed in that space. It does not have nearly as much market share." Compared to the Disney Mobile service, which offers more parental controls, Amoroso believed that "some parents who just want location information may favor Sprint's offer."

Amoroso opined that "the $9.99 monthly service fee, and a slim consumer demand for people-finding services may limit Sprint's success." She said, "Before this service comes down in price, I think it will be marginal," and estimated "about 2 percent of U.S. subscribers are interested in people-locating services."

The service currently requires the parent to download the locator app to one of the 17 Sprint Nextel handsets supporting the service. There are 30 GPS-enabled handsets that a child can carry that supports the service, but no app is required.

Potential privacy issues aside, it would be nice to have some web aspect to this service available as well since if you're at the computer already it just easier to use it to check on the whereabouts of your kid...