I-Link Inc. announced plans Tuesday for a "plug-and-play" multi-line device that the company says will allow a home or small business the ability to have the equivalent of 24 telephone lines from just a single existing line and also provide access to enhanced telecommunications services.

The device, code named C4 for "customer communications control center," will go into field trials in the fourth quarter of this year with plans to begin shipping the product in 1999, said spokesman David Politis. It is being developed by I-Link's subsidiary company Via-Net Technologies. I-Link is based in Draper."This is going to provide 'round-the-clock Internet access and also access to such services as voicemail, fax, paging, e-mail, conference calling and `follow me anywhere' service," said Politis. The latter service allows a single phone number to reach the subscriber anywhere in the world through call forwarding.

ViaNet Technologies is based in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, which Politis termed a "real hotbed" for the telecommunications industry.

He said the I-Link system will be similar to Sprint's recently announced telecom network, but while Sprint's system will need a technician to install it, the I-Link will be "plug and play."

The device will convert an existing phone line now going into a home or business into a network equivalent to as many as 24 separate lines, although a high-speed connection will be required to make it work. But subscribers would have to pay only for the single phone line, making it "dramatically different from today."

I-Link chairman and CEO John Edwards said his company's technology leverages existing local and long-distance switches, fiber-optic lines and copper lines to provide improved access and services for those who currently don't have it: homes and small businesses.

He said I-Link plans to harness the bandwidth being created by other companies to do something for consumers other than just give them a faster Internet connection.

"While other communications service providers are busy re-inventing themselves by investing billions of dollars in new infrastructure, I-Link is able to bring traditional and enhanced services to consumers using the wires that already run to nearly every home and small business today," said Edwards.

I-Link's strategy, said Edwards, is to bridge the gap between existing infrastructure and consumers.

Following the announcement of the upcoming new technology, I-Link's shares closed at $5.4375 on NASDAQ Tuesday, down 121/2 cents on volume of 88,900 shares.