IBM, 3Com ratchet up small-business initiatives

With a bevy of new products and services for small businesses, industry giants 3Com and IBM are acknowledging the little people.

Big Blue on Tuesday announced its Small Business WebConnections unit, a subscription-based Internet and Web-hosting plan that includes hardware, software and services in a single bundle.

The hardware that enables the service is the Whistle Interjet, a thin server that sits on a company's LAN, providing firewall and hosting up to 100 IP addresses. IBM acquired Whistle Communications last year in order to get the Interjet.

WebConnections includes a range of connection options -- analogue, ISDN and DSL -- as well as three levels of service. All packages require an activation fee of $299 (£185) and a commitment of 12 or 24 months. Customers who provide IBM with leads for other customers can receive a $250 bonus.

The silver package includes individual email addresses for up to 100 employees, spam blocking, mailing lists, remote access, Internet service, file sharing, firewall, FTP server capability and 24-hour telephone support. Pricing ranges from $99 per month for an analogue connection to $299 per month for a Class 3 DSL connection. The gold package includes the basics, plus a 50MB Web site, hosted by IBM, and secure remote network access. Pricing ranges from $149 to $349.

The platinum package includes all of the above, plus an additional 50MB of Web site space, registration with 20 search engines and several services for e-commerce applications. Pricing ranges from $249 a month to $449 a month.

For its part, 3Com is focusing on its OfficeConnect line and leaving it up to Internet service providers to offer the products as parts of service packages. The company has several such deals with ISPs in Europe and Asia and will announce a partnership with a major US ISP on 12 October, officials said. "We're always looking at new channels: PC OEMs, ISPs, etc. to provide a total package," said Karen Oddey, vice president of small-business network marketing at 3Com's Hemel Hempstead, England, OfficeConnect facility.

3Com on Tuesday introduced several new members of the OfficeConnect family, which focuses primarily on small-business customers. Most of these are upgrades to existing products. Heading up the new line are several all-in-one products that combine modems with hubs and allow several users to share a single Internet connection.

The OfficeConnect LAN modem, which combines a four-port Ethernet hub with a 56K-bps modem, now includes fax capabilities and dial-in access for remote applications. It costs $349 for a 56K analogue connection and $499 for ISDN. The OfficeConnect 56K Business Modem, compatible with PCs and Macintosh computers, features both USB and RS/232 connection options. Pricing was not immediately available.

The OfficeConnect Fast Ethernet Networking Kit includes two Fast Ethernet NIC cards, a four-port hub, cables, and software to hook up two or more PCs. It costs $215. The products are available immediately.

3Com also introduced two new firewalls for small-business LANs that are due in November. The Internet Firewall 25 and the Internet Firewall DMZ support 25 and 100 users, respectively, and will be available as 12-month subscriptions in November.

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