Putting Kids In The Wireless Crosshairs

Virgin Group is creating a wireless data and voice service customized to attract new young customers.
The company that brought the world Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Megastores, and even Virgin Cola is coming for your children. Execs from the Virgin Group and Sprint Corp. are planning a cell-phone service custom designed for U.S. kids and young adults. "We have only one customer group in mind--people under the age of 30," said Dan Schulman, CEO of Virgin Mobile USA, during a media briefing Thursday.

Beginning late next month, Virgin Mobile will sell one-price, prepaid voice and data plans designed to make mobile ownership simpler. It will also sell a number of "VirginXtras," including RescueRings, an automated service that will call your phone at a predetermined time to provide an easy excuse to escape from a bad date or party.

Virgin Mobile will be a "virtual network operator," meaning it will have its own phones and services, but will operate on Sprint's mobile network. Kyocera Wireless Corp. will create phones expressly for the service that will, among other things, feature hip ring tones and faceplates.

Virgin already operates a successful mobile service in the United Kingdom, and Gartner analyst Tole Hart says it should be able to make it work here, too. "It sounds like a pretty good plan," he says. Kids "are the last unpenetrated market" in the United States.