updated 10/25/2004 3:38:56 PM ET 2004-10-25T19:38:56

Sprint Corp. said Monday it is coming out with a suite of services aimed at helping companies better manage cell phones and PDAs they issue to employees, including a feature to remotely erase sensitive information from devices that are lost or stolen.

The "managed mobility" package will also help information technology departments in medium and large companies keep a better eye on the use of wireless devices and automatically upgrade their software without having to bring in the devices.

The program also will allow companies with several cell phones to purchase pools of minutes as opposed to having to monitor and pay for dozens of individual calling plans.

The Overland Park, Kan.-based telecommunications giant said it is testing the programs now and expects it to be available in the first quarter of 2005.

Sprint officials said the product is aimed at in-house technology departments suddenly having to monitor the devices, especially ones that may contain confidential phone numbers or data.

"Mostly, you just have voice devices right now," said Howard Janzen, president of Sprint's business solutions division. "But then the first data applications come out _ the Trios and the BlackBerrys. Companies are now more worried because you have people walking around with these e-mail devices falling out of jackets and bags and getting lost. Security is now an issue."

Avi Greengart, principal wireless device analyst for Current Analysis of Sterling, Va., said other companies already provide services to remotely shut down or lock up wireless devices. But the ability to manage other tasks, such as automatically updating software on those devices, would require the wireless carrier's help.

Greengart added that demand for these services is currently small as relatively few companies have decided to buy and maintain their own network of wireless devices. But he said he expected that to change quickly.

"Is there a growing understanding that these devices are critical for business functions? That's clear, especially when you're discussing lines of business applications, such as e-mail," he said. "In those cases, companies do not deploy until they can manage those devices."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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