Cellphones for kids -- and seniors
New markets are being targeted at the CTIA Wireless 2006 trade show.
By Peter Lewis, FORTUNE senior editor

LAS VEGAS (FORTUNE) - There's something for young and old and everyone in between at the CTIA Wireless 2006 trade show that opened here yesterday. While most of the new mobile handsets introduced here are aimed at active adults -- more than 70 percent of whom already have a mobile phone, according to market research -- at least two new services are hoping to dial up seniors and kids.

Going after different ends of the age spectrum, Disney Mobile (for children and their parents) and Jitterbug (for seniors and their boomer kids) are mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), a new breed of specialized mobile phone service for targeted demographic niches.

MVNOs buy excess capacity from the big national wireless companies, and then offer phones and phone services customized for a certain demographic niche. ESPN Mobile (also a Disney company) is one such MVNO, catering to hard-core sports fans who want the latest headlines and game videos delivered to their mobile phones.

Disney (Research) once again enters the MVNO business on the Sprint Nextel (Research) network, this time going after the so-called "tween" market of 8- to 12-year-olds, and their parents.

Specially designed Disney Mobile phones allow parents to track the location of their kids -- or, at least, the location of their phones -- using GPS technology. Parents can also program the phones to restrict incoming and outgoing calls, including the times the phone can be used. They can set monthly spending limits for text messages and downloaded ring tones, thus avoiding unpleasant billing surprises and, one hopes, teaching the kids important budgeting skills.

Disney says parents will appreciate the safety and security features of the Disney Mobile service, including a dedicated 911 emergency button and programmable buttons to call, say, Mom or Dad at the office.

"Finally, a phone that gives moms what they need and kids what they want," the Disney Mobile tagline goes.

What kids want, according to Disney, is a real phone -- not some plastic kiddie phone with big Mickey ears or goofy colors -- with real features like a digital camera, downloadable ringtones and graphics, and other ways to customize the phone (including, of course, lots of Disney-themed content). The clamshell handsets introduced here are made by the South Korean companies LG and Pantech.

Disney Mobile expects to launch the service this summer. Pricing of the service has not been announced.

Cellphones for seniors and their parents

Jitterbug, meanwhile, is the creation of GreatCall (www.greatcall.com), a company founded by two long-time veterans of the wireless industry, including Martin Cooper, who is credited with making the first wireless phone call 33 years ago.

Jitterbug, also launching later this year, consists of a simplified mobile phone and service designed especially for baby boomers and their parents. The Jitterbug phone, designed for GreatCall by Samsung, features oversized keys, a large text display, loud and clear audio, and an easy-to-hold design.

Another Jitterbug phone is even less complex, with just three buttons: One that connects directly to a Jitterbug operator (a live human being who can help make calls), a dedicated button for 911 emergencies, and a programmable button for calling a relative or friend.

The live Jitterbug operator and the simplified design of the phone are likely to be appealing not just to the elderly and the disabled, but also to technophobic boomers. The live Jitterbug operator can retrieve phone numbers from an online personal phonebook, help check voicemail, and assist in making calls. GreatCall says the service can even detect when the user's phone battery is failing. Pricing has not been set, however. Top of page

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