Japan's Softbank to launch GPS tracking service

The operator will rent out trackers and offer a "call" service allowing users to summon a security guard to their location

Japan's Softbank will soon launch a new service around small GPS trackers that it will rent out to customers for a monthly fee.

The trackers are small enough to slip into a pocket or attach to valuable items, and will run on Softbank's 3G mobile network. They will allow customers to remotely "check in" to see where they are located, or be notified if a tracker leaves a pre-defined location.

"Up until now, we've launched phones with this feature that have largely been used by children and the elderly. We would like to expand this service to individuals that use it when they go jogging or in other situations," said Softbank spokesman Masaki Tanabe.

The white devices measure 45mm x 67mm and are 15mm thick, and weigh about 48 grams. They are water and shock proof and can run about 340 hours off one battery charge in standby mode. They also store their location continuously for future upload to a PC or smartphone via special apps.

Softbank said it aims to launch the service from the middle of next month. It is sure to trigger privacy concerns in Japan, where stalking and camera voyeurism incidents are a major social issue and often covered in the media.

"There are already similar devices that can be used for such purposes. We will leave the use of our service to our customers," said Tanabe.

The service will cost ¥490 (US$5.20) per month with a two-year contract. Softbank said it will waive the fee for new mobile subscribers.

The company will also launch a new service from April that allows subscribers to send a security guard directly to the location of one of the sensors or phones. It will cost ¥315 per month, plus a one-time ¥5,775 fee whenever a guard is summoned.

The service, offered through Japanese firm "Central Security Patrols," will be called "CSP Mobile Assist." The firm specifies that it is not available to members of gangs or criminal groups.

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