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Skype targets small businesses

Company introduces a new Web site, hardware and enhanced features to address the small-business market.

Internet calling provider Skype is courting small businesses.

On Thursday, the company announced Skype for Business, which consists of new hardware, improvements to programs and a Web site dedicated to small businesses.

Skype, which was bought by eBay last year, offers software that allows people to make free calls over the Internet from their computers. Skype also offers premium services, such as Skype-Out, which charges customers for calls made from PCs to regular phones.

Skype has traditionally been thought of as a consumer application. But the company says that 30 percent of its 75 million subscribers use the software for business. Most of these businesses are small--about half of them have fewer than 10 employees, Skype said. For the past year, the company has been targeting business users.

Skype for Business is designed for these users, who are too small to invest in building their own Internet Protocol telephony networks or to subscribe to expensive managed services from a telephone carrier.

The new Web site,, serves as a centerpiece designed to provide information and downloads that make using Skype easier. Some of the features offered include integrating Skype with the Microsoft Outlook toolbar and a new auto-management tool that enables group administrators to purchase Skype credits for one account and then distribute them to employees, who can use them for Skype premium services such as SkypeIn, SkypeOut, voice mail and third-party conference calling.

Skype has also announced new Skype-ready hardware including a Plantronics Voyager 510 Bluetooth headset, a Linksys cordless Internet phone, and an Internet speakerphone from U.S. Robotics.

Skype has also partnered with several third-party software providers, such as and WebDialogs, to integrate their applications with Skype.

Skype isn't the only voice over IP provider going after the small-business market. Vonage has two small-business plans starting at $39.99 per month. Web portals America Online and Yahoo have introduced voice and file-sharing capabilities with their instant messaging clients. Yahoo has integrated its client with Microsoft's Live Communications Server. And AOL plans to add more features designed for business users to its IM client later this year.