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Dell touts in-home services

Company offers to install its PCs, televisions and networks, and provide extra phone support for stopping viruses and spyware.

Dell is coming to your doorstep.

As expected, the Round Rock, Texas, PC maker on Thursday unfolded a menu of expanded in-home service and support offerings for consumers' home PCs, networks and televisions, building on its recently expanded line of electronics devices.

The Dell Solutions Center effort offers a range of telephone and in-home assistance, including setting up new computers, peripherals and home networks; eradicating viruses and spyware; and installing televisions. The set-price offerings start at $39 for a single call to Dell's help desk and range to $699 for its top-of-the-line television installation. Most of the packages, including a one-year help desk service contract or in-home installation of computers, will cost less than $200.

Dell's goal in marketing services to consumers is threefold. The company wants to buttress its budding consumer electronics business, compete for profits with those already providing similar in-home services and also cut down on support calls. Analysts have said that, by offering more help with the setup of complicated technology products, companies can lower returns from their less technology proficient customers, who might have difficulty setting up their new equipment.

Dell's recent foray into consumer electronics, and now consumer-level services, stems from the belief that customers are moving toward a digital home in which they will link their PCs, televisions and other home-electronics gear to share multimedia files between them. Yet those customers may want some help installing some of those complicated products, such as networks, or they may need assistance in securing themselves against spyware and viruses, company executives say.

"Many of the same customers need help navigating the digital landscape," said Mike George, general manager of Dell's U.S. Consumer business, speaking during a news conference on Thursday. "They may need help getting the full use of these technologies."

Thus the company organized its Dell Solutions Center into three categories: "Protect it," "Start it" and "Use it."

In the "Start it" category, Dell will offer customers several levels of in-home PC setup, some including tasks such as establishing wireless networks. The contracts start at $149 for basic installation of a PC, which includes assembling the computer, installing accessories such as a printer and setting up an Internet connection. The company will charge $159 to set up a wireless home network, including a wireless router, with an existing PC.

Dell will also offer TV installation for prices ranging from $169 for a basic installation to $699 for an all-inclusive package to mount a TV on a wall, install speakers and conceal the wires.

Under "Use it," Dell will offer a telephone helpdesk service that will assist callers in setting up PC accessories, detecting and removing spyware and viruses, backing up data and performing everyday tasks such as burning CDs.

Customers can choose a single call for $39 or sign up for a one-year subscription for $189. Dell will offer the one-year plan for $149 when purchased with a new PC, George said.

Spyware and viruses are of particular concern for Dell. Problems with those malicious software agents now account for 20 percent of the company's support calls, the company says. In addition to the services offerings, Dell plans to offer a security software bundle that will combine a firewall, antivirus and antispyware software. The bundle will become available in November at no charge.

In the "Protect It" category, Dell will pull together its different warranty service and accidental-damage protection contracts. None of them are particularly new, however, George said.

All of Dell's new services are available now, but only in the United States, a Dell spokesman said.