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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Disposable mobiles hit the shops
Disposable phone
Hop-On's website shows how the phone will look
Disposable phones could soon be joining throwaway cameras in shops across the US.

A small US firm, Hop-On, has won regulatory approval to sell the first throwaway prepaid mobile phone.

The firm plans to launch immediately, starting in Southern California and rolling out to the rest of the US over the next three months.

But some experts have questioned the viability of disposable phones, especially in an already saturated European market.

Crazy offering

Hop-On hopes to have sold millions of the stripped down handsets by Christmas.

"I don't want to sound like a crazy person, but as many phones as I can build I can sell," said Chairman Peter Michaels.

IDC analyst Paulo Pescatore thinks Michaels is being a little over-optimistic.

"I can't see how this would serve anything other than a niche market. The youth market for example is going to prefer to have funky handsets with the latest technology," he said.

The phone is the size of a deck of playing cards and will offer 60 minutes of service for a $40 flat fee.

Top-up cards of additional talk time can be bought in increments of 60, 90 and 120 minutes.

Users talk and listen via a microphone or earpiece connected by a thin wire. To cut down on costs, there will be no data features and the LCD display has been replaced by an audio playback for any number dialled.

A $5 rebate is available to customers who want to dispose of their phones. Hop-On will recycle used devices to new customers.

An even cheaper model priced at $29 is awaiting regulatory approval.

Suited to US

A deal has been struck with an unnamed US carrier and the company is in talks with up to 30 major US retailers to distribute the phones in convenience stores, petrol stations as well as big retail stores.

Ovum analyst Jessica Figueras believes that the phones will be well suited to the US market because of the myriad networks that exist across America.

"It would be quite handy if you are going on a trip to a place where your existing handset will not work and it would also be useful for tourists visiting the US," she said.

In Europe there would be less of a market for such phones, especially as existing pre-paid phones could be bought for not much more than the disposable ones said Ms Figueras.

"I would envisage such a product being used mainly for merchandising in Europe. They would be very easy to brand and could be handed out at sporting and other events," she said.

See also:

26 May 02 | Science/Nature
25 Jan 02 | Business
07 Dec 01 | England
13 Jul 01 | UK
29 Jan 01 | dot life
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