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BT drives unified comms downmarket with upmarket chef

Gordon Ramsay-fronted push is go

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BT mounted its big push this week to drive uptake of wholly-IP-based voice and IT communications downmarket, to small and medium sized businesses.

Ahead of its Business Experience Day on Wednesday, BT drip fed national newspapers earlier this week with the news it had engaged the services of professional shouter Gordon Ramsay to front a big advertising campaign to convince small business it needs converged networking and managed services.

A vast array of broadband, wireless, VoIP, conferencing, applications and support services will be punted at SMBs, which BT reckons don't have the IT marbles to implement and maintain what Business marketing director Mick Hegarty terms "Martini communications" - any time, any place, any where. Oh dear.

The firm is in final testing of a whizzy new VoIP system which will allow small businesses to easily run their own phone switchboard over the web, re-routing calls and adding lines remotely.

All of which is nice, and BT reckons it isn't going to have bandwidth problems with small businesses demanding these new servcies. Hegarty said that by this time next year, the 1Mbit/s maxiumum upstream speeds that its new 21CN ADSL2+ is theoretically capable of will be a mass market product, even though migrations are only due to begin outside the South Wales test bed early next year.

BT also provided more details on its plans for Tradespace, its "social media platform dedicated to small businesses".

Tradespace's basic functions are free, with extra media uploading and click-to-call VoIP functionality available at a premium, though BT business online director Jennifer Mowat said there would be nothing to stop businesses adding Skype or other VoIP platforms to their pages gratis, but noted that most would be "clueless".

As it stands, Tradespace boils down to a free and simple My First Website, and some PageRank-savvy marketing nous for web virgins, with some obligatory 2.0 bells and aggregation whistles tacked on for giggles. The value of a blog aimed at a high street hairdresser's customer is questionable at best; Wall Street tech behemoth Sun Microsystems is yet to convince many that its bloggy adventures have yielded any value.

Later this year though, the first update to Tradespace may reveal its true destiny, when BT will add payment functions. The firm refused to say who it's brought in to provide the cash register, but given it'll be blundering into the cottage retailer market which eBay has cornered, our betting is it won't be PayPal...which leaves Google's heavily-promoted Checkout system.

Tradespace is the kind of low outlay, high potential return service that BT is striving to get better at rolling out quickly, as witnessed by its corporate re-jig yesterday. Hegarty said: "It could be used by millions, it could be 10."

Tradespace will also be integrated with Workspace, a Microsoft Sharepoint-based CRMish platform which acts like a Fisher Price version of Salesforce. Businesses should be able to collaborate internally and with partners, and then punt the results easily on Tradespace.

BT has also teamed up with Redmond on its Applications Marketplace, which it hopes will become a forum for ISVs to hawk their software as a service offerings to its huge small business base. ®

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