SKY Telecom Services, the global messaging unit of Hongkong's First Pacific Group, is to get its long-awaited worldwide paging service off the ground in April. The company, which has had a pilot programme of more than 100 users in the United States, Canada, Hongkong and Singapore running since last October, has so far invested more than $70 million in network infrastructure. SkyTel, as the service is known, was granted a licence to operate the service in late 1991, but its launch was delayed while final re-seller arrangements were negotiated with local paging companies. With those negotiations complete, the company expects to have 10,000 subscribers on the Hongkong network by the end of the year, according to the company's marketing director, Mr Allen Luu. The SkyTel service, which will be offered to Hongkong pagers through existing paging companies like Hutchison and Star, will allow local users to receive messages while travelling overseas. SkyTel will initially offer three services: SkyPage, a basic automatic numeric pager service; SkyTalk, a phone-in voice mail system, and SkyWord, a full-blown alpha-numeric messaging service capable of sending whole pages of information. The SkyWord services provide an interesting precursor to hand-held personal digital assistant (PDA) technology, as it will allow international electronic mail between palmtop systems such as the Hewlett-Packard 95LX attached to a paging device. The SkyTel service is part of a global messaging project being pioneered by the United States-based Mobile Telecommunications Technologies (Mtel), which holds the licence to operate a nationwide paging service in the US at the 931.9375 MHz frequency. The company has been progressively pushing other countries to assign the same frequency to a paging service, thus establishing the frequency as a de facto global standard and allowing international messaging So far, subscribers to the service will be able to receive messages in the US, Canada, Mexico, Hongkong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bermuda and Argentina. While Mtel continues to push the acceptance of the 931.9375 megahertz (MHz) frequency all over the world, Asia has become a primary focus for the company because of the high penetration rate of pagers per capita through the region. According to Mtel Asia vice-president Mr Peter Rachor, SkyTel expects to have more than one million subscribers on the network by 1997, five years after it started operation in the US. ''We see Asia as a particularly good market for us, and eventually we would hope to have complete Asia coverage,'' Mr Rachor said. In Hongkong, the company expects about five per cent of the pager user population to use its international service. There are now about 450,000 pager subscribers in the territory - a figure SkyTel expects to climb to 1.5 million by 1997 - giving it a customer base of 75,000 in Hongkong alone. ''So we really expect our product to be a niche within what is a very aggressive growth market,'' Mr Rachor said. According to Mr Luu, the company hopes to be able to offer services to Taiwan and China in the near future; destinations that would significantly enhance the attractiveness of the service. ''We have already signed the basic agreements in China, although it is still impossible to say [when the service can be offered there]. We have a very good chance in China though,'' he said. The Taiwan paging market, though less than half the size of Hongkong's, at about 200,000, is among the fastest growing in the world - more than doubling last year. The latest Asian country to assign the 931.9375-MHz frequency to nationwide paging is Indonesia, making it the next link in the pan-Asia network. Mtel and Singapore Telecom, the original partners in pursuing the global network, are also joint venture partners in Indonesia with local firm, the Kadaung group. The SkyTel service in Hongkong is a five-way joint-venture between First Pacific, Sun Hung Kai Industrial, Vodafone of Britain, Singapore Telecom and Mtel.