• United States
Senior U.S. Correspondent

CTIA – Disney Mobile aims squarely at families

Apr 05, 20063 mins
Network SecurityTelecommunications Industry

The Walt Disney Co. on Wednesday unveiled a mobile service designed for families that allows parents to monitor their children’s locations and control their mobile phone use.

A Disney-style introduction including a live appearance by the well-known Mickey Mouse character stood out among keynote addresses Wednesday at the CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas.

Disney Mobile, which will begin selling its service online in June and later through kiosks and a major retail chain, is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) using Sprint Nextel’s existing Sprint cellular network. MVNOs target a specific audience and

tailor services to their needs. Disney Mobile includes features for controlling who children can talk to, when they can use their phones, and how much they can spend per month on voice calls and each type of data service. Parents can set those controls via a Web page on a PC, said Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group.

Once a child’s monthly allowance has been reached, both the child and the parent get alerts on their cell phones and the parent can decide then whether to increase the allowance or restrict the phone.

The service will also include technology that lets a parent view a child’s location through the GPS (Global Positioning System) function of the child’s phone. They can retrieve that information either by address or on a map, on a PC or their own Disney Mobile phone.

And a Family Alert feature lets family members send messages that pop up over the regular phone display and have to be acknowledged before the regular screen and phone functions reappear.

Disney will sweeten the deal with content from films, as well as text and picture messaging, from the ABC TV network and its other sources, Wadsworth said.

The service offers families some attractive advantages, analysts from Current Analysis Inc. said.

“You want your child to have a cell phone, but you don’t want them to rack up a huge bill,” said analyst Eddie Hold.

However, Disney will have to come out with more exciting handsets than the two models it showed off Tuesday, said Suzzana Ellyn, also of Current Analysis. The company showed off midrange camera phones made by LG Electronics and Pantech Co.., both of which will sell for $59.99.

In addition, it may be hard to get parents to buy another phone if they already have one for work, Hold said.

Verizon Wireless Inc. also sees gold in family mobile offerings. The carrier expects to introduce its own service by the end of the year that will let parents keep track of their children’s locations via cell phone, executives said during a press conference at the show.

“I don’t see much in what Disney is doing that we won’t do ourselves,” said Denny Strigl, president and chief executive officer. Verizon currently sells a children’s phone with limited calling capabilities and offers family sharing plans. Verizon is looking to

text and picture messaging among family members, as well as music sales, as good revenue opportunities from those plans.

CTIA continues through Friday.