While the country's two largest long-distance phone companies offer a variety of services that any business can sign up for, the third-and fourth-largest phone companies have taken aim at the low end -- small companies with phone bills as slight as $100 a month. Both United Telecom/Sprint (Clarity Service, 800-877-4646) and Cable & Wireless (Virtual Network Service, 800-969-9998) have begun marketing packages that bundle every type of calling -- outbound, toll-free inbound, international, travel card, fax broadcasting, conferencing -- into one companywide network, so long lists of heretofore scattershot items are now billed either on a single comprehensive invoice or by categories elected by the customer. A cost saver: calls from all company locations, including overseas and at-home offices, are automatically aggregated for maximum discounts.

Multilocation businesses stand to gain most, notes C&W CEO Gabe Battista. But by using a single platform for all its needs, even a one-site entity can save 10% to 15% in direct costs. More than that, "it will get information to manage with: who's spending where, what should be rebilled to someone else -- things that large companies know but small companies don't have the staff to find out."

Like rival Sprint, C&W offers a delicatessen of corporate options, such as security codes affixed to travel cards, which can be canceled or modified over a touch-tone phone, and 800 numbers that can be call-forwarded to an individual during off-hours.

These new services are likely to render the monthly billing statement obsolete. Already, subscribers are opting to be billed electronically on floppy disk or by modem. Filed in an office PC, the billing data can then be analyzed by yet another proprietary component designed for small-business savings: telecommunications-management software.

-- Robert A. Mamis

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"Distinctive ringing," an inexpensive household service in which each of up to four incoming numbers has an individual ring pattern, can now be adapted to a small office, thanks to an easily installed switch. RINGdetector ($59.95 from Lynx Automation, Lynnwood, Wash.; 206-744-1582) provides multilisting capability over a single line by sensing whose number a caller has dialed -- modem, fax, telephone-answering device, or your personal phone -- and directing it accordingly.