April 7, 2006 10:00 AM PDT

Protective parents: Gold for cellular services?

LAS VEGAS--You might think kids are too young for cell phones, but your mobile operator doesn't. Services catering to the under-14 age group and their parents could be the next big driver of growth in the cell phone industry.

While cell phone penetration rates are high among the U.S. population as a whole--roughly 69 percent--there is still plenty of opportunity in selling phones to kids. According to George Grobar, general manager of Disney Mobile, cell phone penetration among about 24 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 in America is only 24 percent.

Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the family market has solid potential: "Families will definitely be a meaningful market for mobile operators. There are some parents who want their kids to have cell phones for emergencies but aren't comfortable giving their kids a phone with no limits or restrictions."

For years, the major U.S. mobile operators have been selling family plans that let parents share buckets of cell phone minutes with other family members. And this segment of the market has been growing recently, said Clay Owen, a spokesman for Cingular Wireless.

So it's not very surprising that Disney, the omnipresent family entertainment brand, would target kids and their parents for a new cellular service, called Disney Mobile, which will launch in June.

Disney hasn't built its own cellular network but is instead leasing capacity from Sprint Nextel. This arrangement, often referred to as a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, setup, is a growing trend in the cell phone industry.

Unlike the family plans offered by the big carriers, Disney Mobile gives parents more power over how and when their children use mobile services.

"Today's plans from the big carriers don't address parental control issues," said Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety, an advocacy group of Wired Kids for parental control of Web usage. "There are a lot of parents who want their kids to have cell phones so they can get in touch with them when they need them, but many of them have been holding off buying them phones because they don't feel comfortable."

The Disney service was designed specifically for parents who want their kids to have cell phones for safety and convenience reasons but are either afraid of what their kids might do with the phones or are concerned about getting surprised at the end of the month with a huge cell phone bill.

Disney has created a call control center that can be accessed either on the parents' handsets or from a Web site on a PC to allow parents to set up a monthly allowance of voice minutes, text messages or other services for each child. Alerts are sent to parents and kids when the limit is reached, allowing parents to either increase the allowance or restrict the phone's use. Unlike prepaid phone service, the Disney service offers exceptions to imposed limits on available minutes so that even when a limit is reached, kids are able to call Mom and Dad or reach 911 in case of an emergency.

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Fleecing the feeble-minded
There is probably no better target market than frightened neurotics, and there is probably no group in society more neurotic and frightened than modern parents.

Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of child rapists and murderers are members of the victims' own families, we are constantly fed a diet of horror stories about the boogyman lurking just outside the school gates or just at the other end of a Net connection.

Child abduction by strangers remains a small percentage of overall crimes against children, yet society spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing about it. As a result, over the past 20 years, the way children are treated has changed out of all recognition. Many are barely allowed out of the house. They are ferried to and from school in tank-like SUVs. They are watched intently for signs of 'aberrant' behaviour and, if they demonstrate any sign of rebellion, are whisked off to the doc or shrink for Ritalin or counselling. Now, we're devising ways of electronically tagging them as if they were household pets.

What does the future hold for these pampered, overindulged, henpecked and largely sedentary children. According to most of the studies I've seen, an early death from diabetes, heart disease and the other side effects of obesity and inactivity. One study predicts that, by 2020, 33% of the population will have Type II diabetes. It is likely that life expectancy will begin to decline as well, for the first time since records began (excluding wartime).

I predict that we'll also see a dramatic upturn in mental illness, as the little princes/princesses are turned loose on an uncaring world with which they are ill-equipped to cope. This may partly explain why so many young people are still living with mom and dad in their late 20s and early 30s: they simply don't know how to take care of themselves.

So we spend money on technologies to reduce the 0.001% chance that junior will be harmed by a sexual predetor, yet we subject our children to a lifestyle that will increase their liklihood of an early death by 20 or 30%.

Brilliant thinking.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fleecing the feeble-minded
There is probably no better target market than frightened neurotics, and there is probably no group in society more neurotic and frightened than modern parents.

Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of child rapists and murderers are members of the victims' own families, we are constantly fed a diet of horror stories about the boogyman lurking just outside the school gates or just at the other end of a Net connection.

Child abduction by strangers remains a small percentage of overall crimes against children, yet society spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing about it. As a result, over the past 20 years, the way children are treated has changed out of all recognition. Many are barely allowed out of the house. They are ferried to and from school in tank-like SUVs. They are watched intently for signs of 'aberrant' behaviour and, if they demonstrate any sign of rebellion, are whisked off to the doc or shrink for Ritalin or counselling. Now, we're devising ways of electronically tagging them as if they were household pets.

What does the future hold for these pampered, overindulged, henpecked and largely sedentary children. According to most of the studies I've seen, an early death from diabetes, heart disease and the other side effects of obesity and inactivity. One study predicts that, by 2020, 33% of the population will have Type II diabetes. It is likely that life expectancy will begin to decline as well, for the first time since records began (excluding wartime).

I predict that we'll also see a dramatic upturn in mental illness, as the little princes/princesses are turned loose on an uncaring world with which they are ill-equipped to cope. This may partly explain why so many young people are still living with mom and dad in their late 20s and early 30s: they simply don't know how to take care of themselves.

So we spend money on technologies to reduce the 0.001% chance that junior will be harmed by a sexual predetor, yet we subject our children to a lifestyle that will increase their liklihood of an early death by 20 or 30%.

Brilliant thinking.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This neurotic parent (me) was one of about 120 children held hostage years ago. I watched a teacher have her throat cut. The man who held us hostage was not a relative or family friend. I don't know what cave you live in, but if you'll review news reports for the last 30 years or so, you will realize that simply sending your child to school can be one of the most dangerous, deadly things you can do. So, I am considering buying my children a phone with a one button, one push 9-1-1 feature. And I have walked the perimeter of their school with them and pointed out places they can run, if they ever need to. I was held hostage before cell phones and things would have gone much worse for us except two or three little boys who knew the local area, I mean really knew it, got away and ran for help. Thus, the police were notified. By the way we also eat vegetable and use our seat belts. I guess I'm ready for a rubber room.
Posted by Terri67 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Disney Mobile vs. major MNOs (using TalkPlus)
I was on the floor at CTIA watching a demo of TalkPlus' new service. It contains a lot of features like: parental controls (both over 18 and age range filtering), white lists, black lists, and multiple identities while talking with instant messenger users (you on your cell and others on their PC). etc., etc., etc.

The TalkPlus guys build enhanced mobile services for MNOs and MVNOs, so, Disney's new "uniqueness" is about to dissapear as the big boys rollout consumer services that go way beyond Disney Mobile's offering.

If I remember correctly, they are about to go live soon...

Lastly, doesn't TCS or AirFlash own the patents on LBS services related to finding people with dual notification when searching?

If Disney is going to be successful here, it will be due to their BRAND NAME, not some generic services that everyone will have via a FREE download in less than six months...
Posted by UStraveler (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disney Mobile vs. major MNOs (using TalkPlus)
I was on the floor at CTIA watching a demo of TalkPlus' new service. It contains a lot of features like: parental controls (both over 18 and age range filtering), white lists, black lists, and multiple identities while talking with instant messenger users (you on your cell and others on their PC). etc., etc., etc.

The TalkPlus guys build enhanced mobile services for MNOs and MVNOs, so, Disney's new "uniqueness" is about to dissapear as the big boys rollout consumer services that go way beyond Disney Mobile's offering.

If I remember correctly, they are about to go live soon...

Lastly, doesn't TCS or AirFlash own the patents on LBS services related to finding people with dual notification when searching?

If Disney is going to be successful here, it will be due to their BRAND NAME, not some generic services that everyone will have via a FREE download in less than six months...
Posted by UStraveler (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
well...
James,
Obesity and health/mental issues is a convoluted justification for why NOT to have parental control over cell phone usage by kids!
The reason why such services exist is to allow your kids to have the freedom that they need by providing parents with a 'tool' to track/monitor a child's whereabouts.
So in fact, this solves your complaint of kids growing obese by being chauffered around in "tank-like SUVs" - They no longer have to be as parents can be rest-assured that they'd be notified if the kid is in danger.
BTW life has changed significantly over the past 20 years with advancements in technology making it **extremely** easy for kids to get in contact with the wrong person, so its not reasonable to compare (in absolute terms) the way kids were and are brought up.I think parents have SOME justification to be "frightened neurotics" as their kids are more vulnerable. This may be a small percentage of crimes agains kids,but its fast growing.
p.s: I'm not a parent...Just my 2cents on why this is service is potentially useful.
Posted by chns (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
well...
James,
Obesity and health/mental issues is a convoluted justification for why NOT to have parental control over cell phone usage by kids!
The reason why such services exist is to allow your kids to have the freedom that they need by providing parents with a 'tool' to track/monitor a child's whereabouts.
So in fact, this solves your complaint of kids growing obese by being chauffered around in "tank-like SUVs" - They no longer have to be as parents can be rest-assured that they'd be notified if the kid is in danger.
BTW life has changed significantly over the past 20 years with advancements in technology making it **extremely** easy for kids to get in contact with the wrong person, so its not reasonable to compare (in absolute terms) the way kids were and are brought up.I think parents have SOME justification to be "frightened neurotics" as their kids are more vulnerable. This may be a small percentage of crimes agains kids,but its fast growing.
p.s: I'm not a parent...Just my 2cents on why this is service is potentially useful.
Posted by chns (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disney Mobile fails to live up to the advertising
I had really, really wanted this service to work. It promised all
the features I wanted: controlling when the phone could be
used, how many messages could be sent, even being able to
locate my teen (which I used once and was very useful).

From the start there were problems - anyone with blocked caller
ID could call in. The calls could go over the preset limit. Since
the current usage itemization isn't available, you have to wait
until the next bill to explain to your kid why she is over limits.
Disney Mobile blamed these problems on their piggy back
service provider (which is Sprint).

Then they upgraded the Call Control scheduler, but it doesn't
work. You set it up, save it, it says OK online, but the phone is
not restricted.

When they upgraded Call Control, my daughter was no longer
able to see her usage on her phone, so she is unrestricted and
has no idea she's over her limit. Gets expensive at 10 cents a
message. So tech control tells me they're "working on it."

So the phone has become a real pain - the $175 early
termination fee seems like a bargain compared to being on hold
with tech control only to be told they're working on it.

Your experience may vary.
Posted by mmartin88005 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disney Mobile fails to live up to the advertising
I had really, really wanted this service to work. It promised all
the features I wanted: controlling when the phone could be
used, how many messages could be sent, even being able to
locate my teen (which I used once and was very useful).

From the start there were problems - anyone with blocked caller
ID could call in. The calls could go over the preset limit. Since
the current usage itemization isn't available, you have to wait
until the next bill to explain to your kid why she is over limits.
Disney Mobile blamed these problems on their piggy back
service provider (which is Sprint).

Then they upgraded the Call Control scheduler, but it doesn't
work. You set it up, save it, it says OK online, but the phone is
not restricted.

When they upgraded Call Control, my daughter was no longer
able to see her usage on her phone, so she is unrestricted and
has no idea she's over her limit. Gets expensive at 10 cents a
message. So tech control tells me they're "working on it."

So the phone has become a real pain - the $175 early
termination fee seems like a bargain compared to being on hold
with tech control only to be told they're working on it.

Your experience may vary.
Posted by mmartin88005 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
would like to use this software
Posted by raltonmartin (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I think until you have a teenager, who is about to begin driving with mental illness, it would be difficult for you to describe using these features as convoluted justification. My daughters illness, emerging bipolar, has the potential for her to make risky choices she wouldnt normally make. In fact the tracking feature was suggested by her shrink.
Posted by raindog1992 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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