HONG KONG'S Asia Communications Group Ltd (ACGL,) the parent company of Internet Service Provider Asia On-line, plans to offer access in China. The plans form a part of its strategy to build a Far East Internet exchange, linked directly to backbones in the United States, Europe and Australia. ACGL also revealed details of its strategic relationships with Tele Media International (TMI,) Datacraft Asia, as well as several Internet service providers covering China, Australia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Europe. TMI, wholly owned by the world's sixth largest telecoms carrier, Telecom Italia, is providing ACGL with a T1 data communications line linking Asia On-Line to the US Internet. Several more high-speed lines have been ordered from TMI to support other nodes in the Asian network and should be operational within the next couple of months, ACGL chairman Tom Yuen said in a telephone interview from the United States. Mr Yuen was a co-founder and former co-chairman of PC vendor AST Research. He said: 'In China we have secured a long-term contract with the Shanghai Stock Development Communications Corp under which our subsidiary, Asia On-line (China), will provide management and consultancy services to build an Internet service in Shanghai. 'The Shanghai Stock Development Communications Corp is a joint venture between the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Shanghai Telephone Company, which falls under the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. 'We expect to link the Shanghai operation directly to our Asia Internet exchange through Hong Kong by the first quarter of next year. Similar relationships are now being developed in other parts of China.' Meanwhile, Asia Communications' new T1 to Alternet in Los Angeles is now up and running, while a connection to the backbone in Australia has been set up through Sydney-based Alphanet. In addition, a strategic agreement with one of Europe's largest providers, covering 28 countries, was expected. Mr Yuen said the company had agreements with Taiwan ISP Pristine and the Philippines' Moscom. Negotiations were also under way with providers in India, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. 'We want to provide our customers not only with a fast service by routing Internet traffic more directly and efficiently, but to also offer our travelling customers a true roaming service that covers Asia, Europe and North America. This structure is the beginning of that dream,' Mr Yuen said. He said ACGL was also establishing a US mirror site of its Asia On-line operation in Hong Kong, 'so that we can transfer bandwidth-hungry traffic such as real-time radio more efficiently to US consumers'. He said: 'This also allows us to host customers' Web sites at the point where they will get the most attention, or hits. This cuts down drastically on demands on our international line, while speeding up the delivery to the end-user.' The regional network is the next phase of long-term development plans for the group. Mr Yuen said the next phase would be the introduction of more interactive on-line services for subscribers. These services would include on-line shopping, ticketing and multi-lingual database search capabilities. 'The future for us is in the provision of interactive content on a global basis. We are putting a huge percentage of our revenues back into research and development and sourcing of state-of-the-art on-line technologies,' Mr Yuen said. 'For example, we were one of the world's first to deliver continuous, real-time radio to the Internet so overseas Chinese could keep up with events in Hong Kong. We will also be working with our overseas partners to bring local radio to Hong Kong for expats,' Mr Yuen said. Acknowledging that Hong Kong was one of the most competitive markets, with about 40 providers vying for a small market, he said that ACGL would rely on its Asian and international experience and financial strength. 'I see a lot of small players coming on to the Hong Kong Internet scene thinking there is a fast buck to be made. I really don't think some of these people have considered the resources required to really provide the kind of service that users expect. Some of them may be in for a big surprise,' Mr Yuen said. 'Likewise, the prospect of building a huge Asia-Pacific Internet backbone has drawn some of the bigger players, but unless they are focused on this objective then their size is not an advantage.' He said ACGL's focus on the Internet business allowed it to make quick decisions. 'We have to be prepared to change major parts of our business plan at a moment's notice,' he said. 'You simply cannot second-guess what is going to happen next in this industry. In addition, much of what we are doing, such as establishing a China connection, has never been done before so there is no model to base your decisions on.' But he said, ACGL was capable of succeeding in the China venture.