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Phone Ahead

A new breed of high-tech telephones makes doing business easier than ever.

If you've resisted tackling the mysteries of the Internet but still want to send and receive e-mail, the next generation of high-tech phones, commonly called "screen phones" or "video phones," have built-in modems and miniature monitors so you can do just that. Or, for those who leave their computers in the office, a screen phone at home allows you to not only pick up e-mail and make calls like a regular telephone but also check your stocks and the latest sports scores.

"The majority of Americans have yet to enjoy the benefits of the Internet, such as e-mail, because they don't own a computer, are not online or are intimidated by it," says Tagni Osentowski of Ft. Worth, Texas-based Uniden America Corp., a wireless communications company that sells screen phones. "A screen phone is a new way to send and receive e-mail without a computer."

A combination of a telephone, electronic address book and computer, screen phones plug into phone jacks and AC outlets just like standard phones and answering machines. Considering their many advanced features, they are surprisingly low-priced, ranging from $200 to $350. Another high-tech innovation is a videoconferencing phone system that sells for just under $500.

Screen telephones with Internet access require you to use a national Internet service provider (ISP) such as America Online, CompuServe or AT&T, or a local ISP, all of which charge average monthly service rates of around $19.95. You will also have to pay for the time you're on the phone, but most ISPs use a local phone number, so charges are generally minimal.

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Phone Ahead.

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