FIXED-NETWORK services provider Hutchison Communications launched its Network Eight international direct-dial (IDD) service in early September, offering a standard rate of $6.70 per minute for calls to the US, with a special rate of $5.50 per minute above a $500 per month minimum. The rate was lower than Hongkong Telecom's standard $6.80 per minute for calls to the US. Network Eight offered cash rebates for incoming international calls, the first time such an incentive had been offered in Hong Kong. 'In other words, if people call you, please don't hang up and the money will keep on coming,' said Canning Fok Kin-ning, Hutchison Whampoa group managing director. Network Eight offered to rebate one dollar for every eight minutes of incoming calls to a Hutchison number above an 88-minute monthly minimum. The standard Hutchison numbers given to people joining Network Eight do not replace existing Hongkong Telecom subscriber numbers. Hutchison has also said it would begin offering personal numbers. Whereas Hongkong Telecom bills in six-second blocks, Hutchison plans to bill by the second and its rates are the same regardless of the time of day the call is made. Although call-back schemes are available from other companies, Hutchison was the first to offer international call rates that could directly compete with Hongkong Telecom IDD. The process involves the customer dialling 008 at the start of the number instead of 001. Calls to Canada cost $6.50 standard and $5.70, and Thailand $8.40 and $7.60. Calls to Australia cost $6.90 standard and $6.10 at the 'privilege' rate for big customers. Value-added features of the network include security and account codes for call tracking. Those interested in joining the Hutchison network should call the company's customer services hotline on 1220. However, you may require a degree of patience - I dialled many times this week trying to get through.