April 7, 2006 10:00 AM PDT
Protective parents: Gold for cellular services?
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Parents can also restrict kids from using certain services and designate when other services can be used. In addition, parents can limit which numbers can be dialed as well as restrict certain numbers from ringing on the phone. By way of Global Positioning System technology, parents can even pinpoint the location of their child's handset on a map. There's also an alert function that sends priority messages among family members.
Aftab said parents interested in a service such as Disney's are the same ones who put their home computers in the living room or family room so they can monitor what content their kids access online.
"Once your kid leaves the house, you have no idea what he or she is doing with (the) cell phone," she said. "They could be downloading ring tones of orgasm sounds, for all you know. Or maybe they're being bullied by another kid through text messages. Disney is the first company to address these concerns."
While large carriers may not offer as comprehensive a service as Disney's, they have still been working to address parents' concerns. Cingular's Owen said parents are able to request that certain services, such as text messaging or Web browsing, be turned off on one or more of the phones in their family plan. Parents can also check minutes and usage for each phone in the plan online or from their handsets.
"We're constantly looking to improve all of our services," Owen said. "And it's definitely an area we're looking into."
Cingular and Verizon Wireless also offer controlled-use mini cell phones for the under-10 set. These gadgets are designed to let parents manage costs and the calls their kids make and receive while remaining connected.
Cingular's FireFly phone has buttons for preprogrammed phone numbers for Mom and Dad, along with a button for 911 emergencies. Up to 20 additional numbers can also be programmed into the phone. Verizon's Migo phone from LG also offers a dedicated emergency button, along with four buttons that parents can program.
Even though the big carriers' services and phones don't match the functionality of newcomer Disney Mobile, they still may have an edge over Disney. For one, most parents who'd even consider buying a cell phone for their kids are already customers of one of the big cell phone companies. It might be easier and more cost-effective for them to wait for new features to be added to their current provider's packages.
"Disney's offering is more comprehensive, in terms of parental control, than anything else I've seen on the market," said Julie Ask, an analyst at JupiterResearch. "But whether or not large numbers of parents subscribe to the Disney service may depend on pricing and the value of the services."
Disney hasn't yet announced its mobile service's pricing details. Cingular and Verizon offer entry-level packages that include free mobile-to-mobile calling, as well as free nights and weekends, for $60 and $70 per month, respectively. These services include two phone lines, and additional lines can be added for $9.99 each.
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