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Strong Growth Projected For Personal Locator Services On Mobile Phones

"Family finders" and services that help users find nearby buddies are expected to drive demand.

The number of subscribers to personal locator services on mobile phones equipped with global positioning systems is expected to soar from 500,000 today in North America to more than 20 million in 2011, a market research firm said Tuesday.

Driving usage today are such services as "family-finder" options from Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, and Disney Mobile. But among the most innovative is from youth-oriented mobile operator Helio, which allows users of a Samsung Drift handset to build a buddy list and broadcast their locations to each other for display on GPS-linked maps, ABI Research said.

"Helio's Buddy Beacon is going to be very popular," ABI Research senior analyst Ken Hyers said in a statement. "It's innovative. This is the first service of its kind in North America."

Wireless carriers, however, have been implementing the services cautiously, adding security features to help prevent users from becoming victims of stalkers, Hyers said. "The service concept is strong, but people who use it must be aware of the 'stalkware' implications."

In Asia-Pacific, the number of subscribers of personal locator services, which were first available in South Korea and Japan, is expected to reach 34 million by 2011, ABI said. Similar services are expected to launch next year in Western Europe.

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