ASIA ON-LINE claims to have resolved key security, language, technology and marketing issues that have delayed rival electronic traders and last week staged a pre-beta test launch of its ambitious Internet trading service. Joseph Sweeney, director of Evolution Ltd, the on-line products and services marketing arm of AOL's parent company Asia Communications Global, said free software would soon be available on file transfer protocol (ftp) sites and would be distributed on diskettes. 'Our current subscribers will be able to order the software on-line and this controlled test is soon to be expanded with another batch of 500. ' Mr Sweeney said. 'This software will be available to the world, any Internet user on any domain with any ISP will be able to use it. 'It's not just for our subscribers.' The software includes news browsing functions, on-line shopping and ticketing services all grouped into separate modules. Access to the World-Wide Web, the graphical section of the Internet that has popularised the use of the Internet as a communications medium, is a separate module that can be customised to each user's choice of Net browser. Asia On-Line is developing its own Web browser, which will also be distributed free, to rival Netscape's Navigator, Microsoft's Web Explorer or CompuServe's Mosaic. The company has signed up some high-profile content providers to post their information on the Asia On-Line interactive services network, including Reuters, United Artists and Wing On Department Store. The security aspect of the new services features a four-layer PGP (pretty good privacy) information encryption system. Credit card information is not transferred via the Internet. Mr Sweeney said consumers did not trust the security of the Internet and Asia Communications had chosen to 'minimise the traffic of credit card information outside conventional banking channels'. 'The transfer of funds will not be between a user's PC and a merchant that puts a service on line with us,' Mr Sweeney said. 'It's between our 'back office' and the merchant's bank.' Asia On-Line will not force prospective merchants to conform to a specific pricing model. Subscribers who call up articles will be charged on a pay per view basis, at levels set by the publisher. Mr Sweeney said the multi-lingual search engine, which used neural network technology, was capable of locating text in any double-byte character language. Most Asian languages are formated in double-byte character sets because the complexity of characters requires far greater numbers of distinctive binary digit (bit) combinations than languages written with Roman characters. The generic status of this search engine gives Asia Communications the confidence to claim compatibility with all languages. Dion Wiggins, strategic director of Asia On-Line, said the search engine had enough intelligence to determine which characters were being sought. So if a content provider decides to post information or services in a certain language, the search will be performed for that particular character set. Asia Communications said it was partnering with ISPs and content providers in several other countries to promote its new services. A planned global roaming dial-up facility through a software overlay called Iris (International Internet Roaming Service), is also to be unveiled later this year but is a separate project to the Interactive Services offerings unveiled last week. The pre-test launch was staged on February 29, a day Asia Communications Group chief executive, Philip Wong, noted only came once every four years. 'This is a very significant day for us,' Mr Wong said. 'It's a redefining moment for the Internet.'