From the February 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

During the Gulf War, there was a lot of hype that videoconferencing was poised to take off. Why all the talk? American executives and professionals were supposedly afraid to fly, due to concerns about possible terrorist activities. It turns out, of course, their fears were overblown, and business travel continued at a fast clip. And only the largest companies, with digital networks, could afford the cost of videoconferencing anyway. But guess what? Technological advances in the industry have continued, and now it appears videoconferencing may finally be ready for the small-business prime time.

Dallas-based Multimedia Access Corp. is targeting businesses with 100 or fewer employees with its Workfone VBX conferencing technology. The video routing system is similar to PBX telephone architecture, which firms with a good number of workers use to route calls, according to Glenn Norem, Multimedia's CEO. But the best thing about it is that it runs over conventional (or in techie lingo, unshielded twisted pair) phone lines. That means all you have to do is buy the VBX, install the software on the computers of designated workers, and you're ready to videoconference.


Gene Koprowski has covered the tech industry for 10 years and writes a monthly computing column for "The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition." Contact him at 74203.1677@compuserve.com

Chatterbox?

Take control of your wireless costs.

Most small businesses don't have a set policy regarding cell phone usage, according to New York City telecommunications consultant Stephen Farley. Consequentially, their monthly wireless phone bills vary wildly.

One management technique is to purchase prepaid cellular phone services. Paying upfront allows you to budget monthly. The prepay plans' tiered pricing structure also enables you to increase senior employees' cellular telephone budgets and give junior employees less airtime, says Stacy Swierenga of PrimeCo, a Dallas communications service provider.

How popular are the plans? "About 50 percent of our customers prepay," says Swierenga, whose company has 700,000 subscribers. PrimeCo's small-business customers can purchase prepayment cards in increments of $25, $50 and $75.

Adds Swierenga, "We're in the process of developing new options for business owners who want to control or budget spending for wireless communications."

Multiplicity

Phone or fax 'em using only one line.

Competition for the fax machine or an Internet access line can heat up during a busy afternoon, as any entrepreneur can attest. And productivity suffers if even one worker can't get a fax out. But in a very small company, entrepreneurs may not be able to justify the extra expense of adding another telephone line just for faxing. Thankfully, your fax and phone frustration can be put to rest pretty easily.

Computer networking hardware manufacturer 3Com is targeting small businesses with technology that gives entrepreneurs the ability to use individual phone lines for simultaneous transmission of faxes and phone calls, says company product line manager Joe Celia.

The $745 Office Connect Remote Dial Analog Router allows you to put a workgroup or small office on one piece of equipment at a fraction of the cost of providing modems and phone lines to each user, says Celia.

Basically, Celia adds, a combination of two 56k modems gives users near-ISDN speeds without having to install expensive ISDN phone lines. But there's another bonus--you don't have to be a techie to install this product, you just plug it in and turn it on.

Contact Sources

3Com Corp., (800) NET-3COM, http://www.3com.com

Stephen Farley, fax: (203) 762-1250

Multimedia Access Corp., (508) 339-9553, http://www.mmac.com