Carriers court the teen market: "You don't want to have your dad's phone."

Share story

The new Motorola i285 mobile phone doesn’t have a built-in camera or even a high-resolution screen.

But flip it over, pop open the battery lid, and you can check the status of your eye shadow or youthful zit. That’s right, kids. The new phone — made especially for you — has a mirror.

Targeting consumers under the age of 35 has become a major focus for cellphone carriers as the adult market has become saturated with mobile phones.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“There’s only 40 percent penetration in the youth market and 60 percent in the overall segments. So this is a comparatively unpenetrated segment,” said Roger Entner, an analyst at the Yankee Group.

That could change soon. By the end of the year, one-fourth of wireless users will be between the ages of 11 and 24 and will generate about $21 billion in revenue for carriers, according to Yankee.

To go after this segment, some carriers are dressing up phones in pink and signing up celebrities to do the speaking. Others are going to great lengths to come up with the hippest products and services at prices a weekly allowance can afford.

Don Girskis, vice president and general manager of Boost Mobile, which launched service in Washington state earlier this month, said it takes more than that.

He said the pitch starts with relationships with some of the hottest musicians and athletes in the country, “rather than just throwing a commercial onto Comedy Central.”

Boost, a division of Nextel Communications, originated in Australia and moved to the U.S. in 2002. It is in all of Nextel’s markets today and has signed up more than 1.2 million customers.

The Boost brand allowed Nextel to go after the youth market without having to sell the same service it pitches to businesses.

“If you are a teen, you don’t want to have your dad’s phone,” Girskis said.

Also focused on the youth market is Virgin Mobile USA, based in Warren, N.J. Today, it has about 3 million customers nationwide.

Neither Boost nor Virgin Mobile own their own cellphone networks. Instead they use other carriers’ infrastructure to launch services they believe will attract younger users.

Boost and Virgin Mobile are offering similar features.

In the case of the i285, it may lack some bells and whistles, like a camera, but at $99.99, it is a price that teens seem to be able to afford.

On average, teens spend about $101 a week, according to Teen Research Unlimited.

Virgin Mobile, too, also provides low-cost services. It has one phone with a camera, and prices range between $50 and $170, said Sarah Koenig, a Virgin Mobile spokeswoman.

Compare that to the $200 T-Mobile Sidekick II advertised by rapper Snoop Dogg, among other well-known celebrities, and they seem more affordable.

Both carriers offer a prepaid service. Teens can buy chunks of minutes ahead of time instead of getting a bill at the end of the month. Paying upfront eliminates running credit checks, a major hurdle for teens without credit cards.

A lot of focus also goes toward content. Text-messaging and games are standard. Ringtones, exclusive to the carrier, can be downloaded. And, for instance, Virgin Mobile is a partner of MTV, allowing users to get music updates or to text message their vote for their favorite music video on “TRL,” or “Total Request Live.”

Carriers are also attracted to the youth market because they use their phones during the off-peak hours. On Saturdays and Sundays, usage hardly slows down and once 7 p.m. hits, traffic skyrockets and stays high until midnight, Girskis said.

“It’s complementary with what Nextel is doing,” he said.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com