In addition to long-distance packages, toll-free and virtual WATS lines, and electronic mail, a few sophisticated telecommunications devices and services are changing the scope and nature of small business.
Among them is the first multiline cordless telephone for business.
The Merlin cordless phone, designed by AT&T Bell Labs, has five programmable buttons that can be used for telephone lines or system features like intercom and speed dial. Visual indicators show the status of the telephone lines, and users can choose any one of 10 channels allocated for transmitting cordless conversations. A message light on the base unit lets users know they have a call, and an automatic digital security system guards against unauthorized use. Suggested prices are from $485 to $560 for the phone and base unit.
In September, AT&T announced a small business telephone system that allows specially-designed telephones to share an extension with any other standard communications device, something AT&T says no other phone system can do. The Partner and Partner Plus Communications Systems allow fax machines, answering machines, credit card readers, rotary or touch-tone phones, modems or cordless phone bases, for instance, to be plugged into the same extension as a Partner multiline phone, eliminating the need for dedicated lines -- those used exclusively for the phone -- and adapters.
The new Partner systems, manufactured in Shreveport, La., include standard features like hold, transfer, intercom, a built-in speakerphone, conferencing, speed dial, last number redial, call restriction and volume control. Partner, the smaller of the two systems, starts with two outside lines and up to six extensions, and can expand to four outside lines and 12 extensions.
Partner Plus offers features such as fax management, which allows users to monitor incoming fax messages and one or more machines; and enhanced call restriction, which blocks calls to certain numbers, exchanges or area codes from specified extensions. Partner Plus also can accommodate an external loudspeaker paging system, an intercom system and music on hold, and offers a telephone that displays messages in English, Spanish or French.
The list price for an average Partner system (two lines and three Partner telephone sets) is $880. The list price for an average Partner Plus system (four lines and seven Partner telephone sets) is $2,480.
Also from AT&T -- for the small business targeting international markets -- is the Language Line, a telephone-based language translation service for almost any language or dialect.
The Language Line, says AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel, gives consumers in the United States and around the world 24-hour-a-day access to interpreters by calling 1-800-628-8486. AT&T began offering interpretation services by telephone in 1989 to U.S. businesses and emergency agencies, such as hospitals.