RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Sprint is adding a new dimension to family wireless calling plans as mobile phones become more versatile in providing important and useful information.

Need to know where your children are right now?

Sprint is rolling out a location-based service designed to help families stay in touch via through wireless phones. Called Sprint Family Locator, it is based on global positioning satellite (GPS) technology. The subscription-based service cost $9.99 a month.

Parents can use either a personal computer or phone to find children carrying a wireless phone. Once the phone is located, an interactive map displays the spot.

The location service is just the latest for wireless phones that can now do everything (play music and video, access your corporate network, provide turn-by-turn driving directions, etc.)

“Sprint Family Locator is a valuable tool that can help parents and guardians have a better sense of their children’s whereabouts when they’re apart,” said Danny Bowman, vice president of product marketing for Sprint, in a statement. “This is the latest Sprint innovation that uses GPS technology to improve the way families connect, communicate and locate one another.”

Families can utilize up to four phone numbers with the service. Permission to use the service is based on “safety” words users pick as part of the registration process.

When a parent or guardian wants to know where a child is, the Sprint service locates the phone and displays the location on an interactive map, Sprint said.

The service will not work if the child’s phone is turned off or not in network coverage area.

The child receives a text message when his or her location is requested.

The service also includes an alert feature called Safety Checks for use in notifying parents or guardians when a child has or has not reached a destination.

“Simply put, Safety Checks are periodic, automatic location requests coupled with notification,” Sprint said on its web site. “At a certain time on selected days, a Safety Check will perform an automated location request for a ‘child’ handset and then notify you where that handset is. You select the time of day, days of the week, ‘Child’ handset, and notification method – all via Sprint Family Locator.”

The service can be used with 30 different models of GPS-equipped phones that utilize the Sprint and Nextel networks.

The Walt Disney Company, which plans to launch its own wireless service, said last week it would offer a family locator service.

Sprint will utilize technology from Wavemarket, a California-based firm, as part of the service.