Orange has launched a low-cost push e-mail service, designed to introduce the technology to small businesses, and spread it to more users in large companies.

The service, which won't reach the UK till next year, is live in Romania, and will roll out across Europe over the next year. Subscribers can choose from eight handsets and will pay around €10 per month per user for unlimited e-mail, or a higher price for sophisticated phones that can download attachments.

The service, based on technology from the French mobile e-mail developer Altexia, uses server software installed behind the customer's firewall, and pushes e-mail, calendar and contact information out to mobile phones. It is compatible with Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.

Customers pay a monthly fee per user, but there is no license fee for the software, and installation help is also free.

The software will be loaded on phones from Sony Ericsson, Nokia and the Orange SPV range, and users of some other phones will in the future be able to download the software. Orange is also working with a Chinese phone maker, Amoi, to develop other low-cost e-mail friendly phones.

Orange hopes the offering will open up mobile e-mail to a wider audience. "We're really targeted on a strategy of making mobile e-mail available for all," said Cynthia Gordon, vice president of marketing for Orange business services.

As well as users in big companies outside the executive corridor, Orange hopes the offering will appeal to small businesses. "We're making e-mail democratic and available to lots more companies," she said. Orange research revealed that just 10 percent of small businesses use a form of mobile e-mail, she said.

Operators and vendors are increasingly trying to broaden the market for push e-mail. "It's indicative of the direction of the market," said Rob Bamforth, an analyst with Quocirca. The handset selection and the low, flat monthly fee on the Orange offering will help encourage more users, he said.

Other operators including Vodafone have already introduced push e-mail services. Like the offering from Orange, Vodafone's service, based on technology from Visto, aims to enable mobile e-mail across many devices. The services compete with Research In Motion's popular BlackBerry devices and new arrival Microsoft with its Windows Mobile 5.0.

Orange Mail has already launched in Romania and will launch in France in October. It will become available in Slovakia and Belgium later in this year and in the UK, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands early next year.