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Disney Mobile Outlines Cell Service Plans

4/07/2006 08:49:00 AM Eastern

Las Vegas — Disney Mobile will roll out its family-friendly cellphone service in June through its Web site and independently operated mall kiosks, then expand distribution in late summer through independent wireless stores, Disney executives said.

Sales through a national retail chain will follow, perhaps in 2006.

Disney Mobile tapped distributor Brightpoint as the master agent providing two phone models, accessories, Disney Mobile service plans, commissions and management expertise to the kiosk operators. Disney Mobile will also use a master agent to provide phones to independent wireless stores but didn’t announce its choice. The kiosks, which will grow to 60 by November, will feature Disney Mobile phones and service on one side and Disney’s Mobile ESPN phones and service on the other.

Disney executives introduced the Disney Mobile service here at CTIA’s Wireless 2006 convention with on-stage fireworks and an appearance by Mickey Mouse. Although they didn’t announce service-plan rates, they said all plans would include a Family Center feature that lets parents control their kids’ cellphone use and allow them to track the location of their teenage and preteen kids in real time. Family- and individual-rate plans will be offered. Subscribers will also be able to download family-friendly Disney and non-Disney content.

Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group, called Disney Mobile “the first comprehensive phone service for all family members” and “unique” in the cellular industry.

From a Disney Mobile handset or via a PC’s Web browser, parents will be able to set usage allowances per child for voice calls, messaging and downloads. Disney Mobile will deliver a message to a parent’s Disney Mobile handset when an allowance is exceeded and prevent further phone use unless the parent ups the allowance. Usage allowances, Wadsworth said, prevent “a free-for-all” for the shared minutes available in carriers’ existing family plans.

From their handset or PC Web browser, parents will also be able to block their kids’ outgoing calls or messages to certain numbers, block incoming calls from certain callers, and block outgoing calls by day of the week and by time of day, such as during school hours. Whatever controls are selected, kids will always be able to call 911, other family-plan users and up to 20 parent-selected “always on” numbers.

Parents can also use their handset or their PC’s Web browser to locate their kid’s GPS-equipped phone. On their Disney handset or on the PC, parents can view their kids’ location, a map of the location and an indication of the accuracy of the location in feet.

A Family Alert feature ensures that kids get a message sent by other family members. A message sent to one or more kids at a time will appear on the main screen of the kids’ phones and block phone calls from those phones until the message is acknowledged. The phones also come with family-oriented “canned messages” such as, “What time is dinner?” and “Can you get a ride?”

For parents with little time, Disney designed an intuitive user interface, developed simplified rate plans, and simplified the purchase by enabling them to leave the store with working phones “customized for them,” Wadsworth said.

For kids, the phones feature cameras; text messaging; picture messaging; and ability to download content such as ringtones, games and applications. A “theme it” feature lets kids and parents select a theme that is then applied to each menu on their phones.

The Disney Mobile and Mobile ESPN services operate over Sprint’s CDMA 1X network. The first two Disney Mobile phones, available at launch, are from Pantech and LG at $59.99 and $109.99, respectively, with two-year contract. Both clamshell models are “high-quality feature phones” because kids don’t want a “kids-look” phone, Wadsworth said. The step-up phone adds 1.3-megapixel camera and Bluetooth.

Although Wadsworth described the phones’ functions and services as unique in the industry, he dismissed a suggestion that, if successful, other carriers would simply offer similar phones and services and erase Disney Mobile’s differentiation. “The technology was built around this target and is hard to do,” he said, noting that it took Disney 18 to 24 months to deliver it.

George Grobar, Disney Mobile’s senior VP and GM, said Disney “would continue to evolve with a focus on family requirements.”