Sprint is rolling out a feature that sets the wireless carrier apart from the competition: vanity numbers. Sprint is the first U.S. mobile carrier to offer what it calls StarStar Me.
Much like vanity 800 numbers that use slogans instead of digits, StarStar Me lets wireless customers use a name they choose in place of their mobile-telephone number. So instead of meeting someone and giving them a hard-to-remember sequence of numbers, you can tell them something memorable.
"Sprint customers will be the first people to get StarStar Me," said Kevin McGinnis, vice president of Product and Technology Development at Sprint. "We expect this service to be especially popular with professionals, students and family customers, who can tailor its use to their individual preferences, lifestyles and interests with a few simple clicks."
Just Hit Star, Star
Here's how it works: Once a user signs up for the StarStar Me service, they choose a name, nickname or unique word in place of their mobile phone number. When people want to call StarStar Me users, they do so by tapping the star key twice on the phone's keypad, followed by that special name or unique word -- hence the name StarStar Me.
StarStar Me offers users the ability to automatically respond to calls with a custom text message when they're busy. The service also gives wireless users a unique way to share links to their blog, Web site or social media accounts.
Of course, it comes with a price. Sprint customers can have two StarStar Me numbers per mobile number for a fee of $2.99 a month per vanity number. That could deliver Sprint as much as $5.98 a month in new revenue per customer.
There's also an app for that. The free StarStar Me app is available for Android-powered smartphones and will soon be available for the iPhone. The app lets users manage incoming calls, automatically send a text message to callers when they're busy, or send callers their contact info, which they can easily add to their address book. Users can also block specific callers, view a call log and manage multiple StarStar numbers.
We asked Jeff Kagan, a telecom analyst in Atlanta, for his take on Sprint's would-be competitive differentiator. He told us if it works it will be a good monthly revenue stream for Sprint. But he's not sure how well it will work.
"If you pull the camera back and look at the industry, the idea would have made more sense 10 years ago when we had to remember phone numbers. Today if you ask someone what a person's phone number is they won't know. They just program it in to their speed dial, look for the name, hit the button and it dials," Kagan said.
"There is probably a percentage of the customer base that will like this service. But it's not going to be a big wild success story that every carrier is going to follow because the market is past that point and every year that goes by we get further away from that point. The more we use cell phones instead of regular phones the less we need these features."