Orange has started to roll out a push email service that it hopes will appeal to small businesses and extend the reach of the technology across the workforce in larger businesses, the operator announced today.

Subscribers can choose from eight handsets and at the low end will pay around €10 (about £7) per month for unlimited email. Higher prices will come with higher-end phones that allow users to download attachments.

Orange customised technology from the French mobile email developer Altexia for the service.

Businesses must install server software behind their firewalls to enable the service, which pushes email, 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 no licensing fee for the server software, and Orange is offering installation help free of charge.

Initially, certain phones from Sony Ericsson, Nokia and the Orange SPV range will come loaded with the software required for the service. Existing users of some other phones will in the future be able to download the software, and Orange is working with a Chinese phone maker, Amoi Electronics, to develop other low-cost phones that will ship with the software.

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

In addition to targeting users beyond the executive corridor, Orange hopes the offering will appeal to small businesses. "We're making email democratic and available to lots more companies," she said. Orange research revealed that just 10 percent of small businesses use a form of mobile email, she said.

Operators and vendors are increasingly trying to broaden the market for push email. "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 email services. Like the offering from Orange, Vodafone's service, based on technology from Visto, aims to enable mobile email across many devices. The services compete with push email offerings from Research In Motion and its popular BlackBerry devices as well as 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.