* New unit to offer usage-based services
* Allstate unit Esurance using Sprint platform
* Dozens of insurers looking to enter market
July 19 (Reuters) - U.S. wireless carrier Sprint said on Thursday it will move into the hot market for tracking technology that lets auto insurers monitor how, where and when their customers drive.
Sprint said its new Integrated Insurance Solutions unit would let companies offer what are known as "usage-based insurance" programs.
Such programs, most notably Progressive Corp's "Snapshot", track variables such as driver speed, location and braking via a diagnostic device plugged into the car. Insurers analyze the data and use it to offer the best drivers discounts.
Sprint said it would offer insurers a complete package -- the tracking hardware, wireless services to transmit the data and access to the software needed to score driver behavior.
Industry consultants say more than 30 North American insurers are looking at some sort of usage-based program, though barriers to entry can be high. By some estimates it can take carriers as long as five years to develop, conduct trials on and fully launch their own nationwide program.
Progressive recently expanded its own program to non-customers, letting them try the hardware to see what kind of discount they might earn if they switched.
Sprint said it had been working with Allstate unit Esurance on a pilot program in Arizona that was recently expanded into Texas.