THERE are 14 bidders for six available licences to provide Hong Kong with the latest service in mobile phone technology, but not all have come up with some of the unusual innovations as the Mandarin Communications consortium. Analysts said that two strategies had emerged in the race to offer mobile digital service on the 1800MHz Personal Communications System (PCS) digital standard. Existing mobile phone providers and some of the new bidders including the Hysan Development-backed Honeycomb consortium see PCS as a low-cost service. Despite high mobile phone usage rates in Hong Kong, a niche is seen for low-usage customers who do not need the powerful international roaming capabilities of GSM phones which operate at 900MHz. Analysts also believe that cellular operators will move some customers to PCS to take the strain off existing networks, therefore allowing them to provide enhanced services. But at least one of the bidding consortiums believes this strategy sells the possibilities of this new technology short. Mandarin Communications, a consortium 30 per cent owned by Lai Sun Development; 30 per cent by USI Holdings, an off-shoot of Wing Tai Group; 10 per cent by China Travel Services (CTS); 10 per cent by Hong Kong Parkview Group; and 20 per cent by Distacom Hong Kong. Distacom Hong Kong was a founding partner of Hutchison Telephone and its development of Hutchison's Orange network in Britain. Mandarin Communications managing director Richard Siemens said he was confident his consortium would be chosen because of such innovations as the 'pizza button.' 'Imagine you have just been having a drink with friends. What is the first thing that gets said when you leave - 'where shall we eat?', ' said Mr Siemens. 'With PCS, you could just press a button and the system can search a database and tell you the nearest pizza or other restaurant,' he said. Another application of the same technology locating automatic teller machines (ATMs). Mandarin is agressive about PCS and the quality of its bid. The outspoken Mr Siemens, chairman of Distacom and managing director of the Mandarin consortium, believes existing cellular operators in Hong Kong have been in a rut since 1992. 'This is a people business. But most of the new players have no experience and the people are kids,' he said. 'Hong Kong used to lead the world [in cellular phone use] but penetration rates are now falling behind other parts of the world and it seems to have lost its edge.' His colleagues, Bruce Hicks of Distacom and Edward Cheng, chief executive of USI Holdings and executive chairman of Mandarin, are every bit as confident. 'What you first have to understand with PCS is that it will be cheaper than GSM or existing mobile services,' said Mr Cheng. 'It is also what else you can offer.' But what will determine the eventual winners in the bidding battle was the technology and innovation in services, according to the Mandarin team. From its formation, Mandarin had chosen its partners with the idea of advanced services in mind, Mr Siemens said 'All the other players have mobile radio partners. Our partner is Northern Telecom, which is a leader in digital switching,' he said. Northern Telecom technology will allow the Mandarin network to do far more than just forward calls or keep voice mail, the limits of advanced telecom technology available in Hong Kong at the moment. The ATM and restaurant finder were only two examples of what was possible, Mr Siemens said. Access to computer information services and the Internet will be available and the PCS system can handle data rates of 9600 baud - equivalent to many desk-top computer modems. But portable computer applications were only a small part of the overall concept, Mr Siemens said. It is the phone serves that were most important. Mandarin will not discuss details of the kind of services it is going to offer, although tie-ups with major department stores to allow in-shop information is another service possiblity. Digital switches from Northern Telecom will also allow Mandarin to offer voice recognition. Mr Cheng said the phones would have Chinese character ability. 'Services are being developed that have the local market in mind,' he said. With CTS as a partner, many potential doors can be opened. In the long run Mandarin is thinking about the opening of China's telecom market, but CTS has other things going for it apart from mainland connections. It is China's 'most consumer-oriented firm,' Mr Siemens said, and it has a huge database. Applications for the Chinese market could easily spring from that source. Mr Seimens said Mandarin's funds were about $1.4 billion, while capital expenditure involved in putting out the network will be $2-3 billion, depending on growth rate. 'When we launch we will have well over 200 cell sites and when we have fully rolled out the network we should have 600,' he said. The number of sites helps determine network capacity. PCS radio signals do not travel as far as the lower-frequency GSM signal, so more base stations are needed. But PCS, as a new technology, can give more bandwidth to users. This allows more information to be carried to and from each phone at the same time.