The P-Plus Communications consortium will have its PCS network up and running within 12 months, according to Star Telecom International managing director, Francis Wong. The consortium will invest $1.2 billion in the network and will take advantage of P-Plus's existing branch outlet and base station networks. Mr Wong said the six new personal communications services operators would bring great advantages to Hong Kong mobile consumers. 'Competition will be extremely keen. I can see the price of handsets and airtime being 20 to 30 per cent lower than current cellular systems.' The market for cellular subscribers, he said, would reach about 2.5 million in the next two years, from an existing one million. Aside from Star Telecom, P-Plus shareholders include Taiwan's Pacific Electric Wire and Cable (PEWC), Asia Paging, Telecom Services, Epro Paging and Telecom Finland. Before it was awarded the licence, P-Plus said it planned to target the consumer mobile and small to medium-sized business markets. In targeting these areas with special tariff plans and services, P-Plus has the advantage of having more than 120 sales and service outlets operated by consortium members. Mr Wong said the consortium members had a base of 350,000 paging subscribers - about 35 per cent of the Hong Kong market - which P-Plus sees as potential clients of PCS services. 'We have five paging companies in our group and all are unaffiliated with any cellular company. The customer base is already used to using communications devices so we see it as a good base for migration.' P-Plus intends using its sales base for targeting this market, which it maintains has been largely neglected by existing mobile operators. Among the features to be included in the P-Plus PCS system will be Star Telecom's Digital Network Alert (DNA) which alerts paging subscribers when their credit cards are being used. 'We will expand the marketing of DNA in the fourth quarter in a joint programme with one of the world's leading banks,' Mr Wong said. Quality of service would be a key determinant of success among the six PCS operators because of the public's experience with cellular services, Mr Wong said. He also predicted a possible split in the PCS market between the wholesale and retail sectors. 'In the past, the cellular market was characterised by vertical integration, where the network provider sold you the handset which could only be bought at one of its shops. This started to change when one operator used a lot of different shops to sell products and this will happen a lot more with PCS because most of the other operators do not have an extensive range of shops.' While other operators would probably sell handsets and air time through third party suppliers, Mr Wong said P-Plus would keep to the vertical model, selling its products through its own outlets. Mr Wong said the fundamentals for the PCS project were basically the same as they were when applications were submitted for the licences in March last year. P-Plus was refining its original network 'from the top down', but was confident of having its network in place within 12 months, he said. A big advantage in having the paging operators in the consortium is the 400 base station sites held between them. Although PC and paging station equipment are completely different, the acquisition of suitable sites is often a headache for network builders. P-Plus consortium member PEWC has an interesting 5 per cent investment in the Iridium low-orbit satellite system but it is too early to guess what possible synergy between the systems could ensue, Mr Wong said. Telecom Finland will be supplying most of the technology to the DCS 1800 network and brings experience from one of the world's busiest cellular markets.