The idea isn't new: offering small and midsize businesses an affordable, all-in-one box that meets nearly all their needs for managed network services. But a Portuguese start-up believes its technology provides all that and more -- and for less money.Critical Software SA plans next month to offer a new version of its edgeBox multifunctional gateway technology that will offer several new features aimed at making communications easier and less costly for customers, says Joao Carreira, vice president of business development at the vendor.The gateway system, launched this year at the Cebit IT trade show in Hanover, Germany, offers a range of out-of-the box services, including voice, data, security and collaboration. It replaces several pieces of equipment currently required to deliver services at the edge of the network, such as router, security and VPN\u00a0systems, according to Carreira."This plug-and-play product is designed for small companies that lack the IT expertise and money of large enterprise," he says. "We see substantial demand for the products in emerging markets, in particular, where both know-how and money are an issue, but we also see demand in developed markets as well. [Small to midsize enterprises] are very cost conscious."The new 4.0 version of the product has several new features, including an IP-PBX\u00a0and\u00a0public switched telephone network gateway with interactive voice response and least-cost routing capabilities, the ability to work as a Windows primary domain control and remote authentication through Lightweight Directory Access Protocol.The recommended retail price is $1,442 per box.EdgeBox software technology runs on commercial off-the-shelf hardware. Critical Software has qualified equipment from three vendors: Dell, IBM and Advantech."We work through channel partners who preload software on servers purchased locally," Carreira says. "This helps reduce costs."Another cost-lowering feature is the use of the open source Linux operating system. "Our product runs over the Linux kernel, as do many network appliances these days," Carreira said. "We also try to incorporate as many open source network service applications as possible to reduce costs."The plug-and-play system can connect at the edge of the network via such access technologies as asymmetric DSL, cable and Ethernet, and offers wireless LAN to connect other terminals in the network.Although SMEs can buy and install the product directly, most are likely to purchase it as part of a service offering from their local telco, according to Carreira. "The box is packed with a lot of network services supported by service providers," he says.The product should also interest service providers, especially those that are keen to offer new value-added services to compensate for the steady decline in bandwidth provisioning prices.Critical Software is currently selling the product in Europe and several emerging markets, including Africa, Brazil and China, according to Carreira. A rollout in the United States is planned at a later date, he says, when the company has sufficient funds to invest in sales and marketing as well as other product enhancements.The start-up faces competition from several vendors, including EmergeCore Networks, Right Vision, which was acquired by Alcatel, and, most recently, Linksys One, a subsidiary of Cisco.