Guardian Angels Go High Tech With GPS Cellphones

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It's hard to keep track of all the new cellphone-tracking services.

The latest is from Guardian Angel Technology, a start-up mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) whose phones and service let parents monitor their kid's location and direction of travel via the Web. The company offers six Motorola GSM/GPRS phones equipped with GPS and the company's tracking application, but it plans to offer its tracking application for most major cellphone brands and models. The application is available as an over-the-air Java download.

Guardian Angel is selling to consumers via its Web site and discussing retail distribution with consumer electronics retailers, a spokeswoman said.

The company is entering a market with plenty of competition. In recent weeks, Sprint Nextel became the first carrier to offer a location service that lets subscribers view the location of their child's GPS-equipped cellphone on a map appearing on their handset or on a PC. In coming weeks, MVNO Disney will launch its family-oriented cellular service, which includes the option of using a handset or PC to track a child's cellphone. Subscribers to the Wherify and Teen Arrive Alive MVNO services must use a PC to track a kid's locations or place a call to a call center. Location data does not appear on a subscriber's cellphone.

All of Guardian's phones are bundled with service plans that package 200 to 1,000 voice minutes with unlimited GPS tracking for $60 to $85 per month. Monthly fees are billed to a credit card. The phones are priced from $160 to $395. The $395 phone, intended for small children, lacks buttons and displays, attaches to a belt or backpack strap and features a single button programmed with an emergency number. All phones are delivered directly from the company fully configured to eliminate set up by the customer.

Guardian Angel also notes that its phones can be used to track adults, including the elderly, with their consent. As a secondary market, the company is targeting fleet operators.

“Because teenagers prize their cellphones as one of their most precious items, parents are happy to provide them a cellphone with the extra benefits of being able to remotely track their teen's location and even their driving speed without the constant 'check in' calls,” said Expedite Media Group president Mike Dirmeikis. Guardian Angel is a division of privately owned Expedite, which offers Web site design, online database development and e-mail marketing solutions for permission-based e-mail marketing.

With Guardian's service, subscribers can view the location of up to six cellphones at a time on a map; check a person's travel pattern for up to a month in the past; see a satellite picture of the building or street where a person is located; and check the monitored phone's battery strength, cellphone signal strength and GPS satellite signal strength. Guardian's phones communicate every seven seconds with GPS satellites, enabling parents to check a child's car speed and direction of travel. The service works in the United States and Canada and parts of Mexico.

Subscribers can view a location on a map, satellite picture or hybrid satellite-picture/map.

Even if a child is indoors and loses contact with GPS satellites, Guardian's servers provide the phone's last known location and the status of the device at the time. In the event that the cellular signal is blocked or dropped, the phones save their GPS data and transmit it automatically once they're back within cellular-signal range.

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