The first shipment of ABC Communications' Quicksilver financial data devices has sold out in less than a fortnight after going on sale. The deputy managing director of ABC, Patricia Yeung, said the Hong Kong financial community had snapped up the first 1,000 of the proprietary wireless systems, which offer a higher data transfer rate than competing services from rival paging operators Star Paging and Asia Paging. 'We've tapped a niche market that was not being catered for,' she said. 'People who want real-time financial information wherever they are, want the very best and most up-to-date source of information they can get. When we planned this new service, we found that conventional paging protocols were too slow to do this. There was always a time lag between market updates which meant investors weren't getting the latest information.' ABC, which says it pioneered stocks services for paging networks in Hong Kong more than 14 years ago, will continue to offer some value-added financial data services for pager subscribers but expects the financial and investor community to embrace Quicksilver. Quicksilver uses a $10 million transmission network customised with Ericsson equipment - deployed separately to the ABC paging network. Content for the service is provided through Reuters, FinaTech, KeenShing Investment Consultants, the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Futures Exchange and Bridge. The value-added wireless service is one of three initiatives announced in the past two months designed to broaden ABC's revenue base. It has hooked up its paging service with Motorola Air Communications' Max data communications network to allow interactive, multilingual two-way paging via an Instant-Dict personal organiser. ABC also signed a deal with the Polytechnic University to link the student and staff e-mail system to a paging alert service. The diversification is in response to a dip in paging subscriptions in the territory. The market is under threat from short messaging services on mobile phones that connect to GSM (global system for mobile communications) and DCS1800 (digital cellular system 1800 MHz) networks. Government figures reveal that the number of digital cellular phone handsets exceeded the number of pagers being used in the territory for the first time late last year. Salomon Bros telecommunications analyst Dan Sherman said ABC, regarded as the territory's third-largest paging operator behind Hutchison and Star Paging, was doing its best to diversify so it was not 'just another mundane paging service'. Star was also developing innovative services. ABC, a founding investor in Asia's first GSM network operator Smartone, acknowledges that it has to act quickly to maintain a hold on a shrinking pager market. It will not disclose the number of subscribers but says the majority are business users. 'More than 40 per cent of our subscribers are from the corporate market and when you count those employees who buy our pagers through company purchase programmes, it is much higher than 50 per cent,' Ms Yeung said. 'That gives us a stable base of subscribers.' The Quicksilver system, with a data throughput of 6,250 bits per second (bps), uses a transmission protocol developed by ABC engineers. Most paging firms in Hong Kong operate networks at 1,200 or 2,400 bps. Although marginally slower than the Motorola FLEX paging protocol (6400 bps) and equal in throughput to the European ERMES paging transmission protocol (6250 bps), ABC says Quicksilver was designed to be efficient for data broadcasts to make the best use of airtime. ABC says Quicksilver content is refreshed entirely by software controls, which means changes in stock codes by the stock exchange are immediately updated. Ms Yeung said rival systems had stock reference numbers loaded into the portable devices that could not be updated remotely, which led to inaccurate data in the event of new listings, stock renumbering or delistings. ABC began work on the Quicksilver project three years ago and has conducted field trials for the past 18 months, redesigning the software interface and terminal after feedback from an initial trial of 200 customers, mainly brokers, financial analysts and investors. ABC was allocated spectrum of 922 to 923 MHz by Hong Kong's Office of the Telecommunications Authority to operate the Quicksilver network and claims that the high-frequency radio design allowed Quicksilver to be easily adapted for lower frequencies in other countries. The Quicksilver device, slightly larger than a personal organiser with an appearance similar to a flat-panel pager, was co-designed with Hong Kong Telecommunications and electronics firm VTech. Ms Yeung said a new supply of units would be available this month. 'The sales did exceed our expectations but that is not to say we didn't know the potential of this market,' Ms Yeung said. 'We have been taking deposits on new subscriptions.' Ms Yeung said export opportunities were being evaluated but did not specify target countries. ABC has joint ventures in Asia, including paging operations in Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and India. Salomon Bros' Mr Sherman said the Hong Kong wireless communications market was an ideal testbed for the ABC service. Optional features on the Quicksilver unit, such as PC connectivity for a larger screen display, have not been activated in the Hong Kong market but would be an attractive proposition for other service operators. ABC Communications achieved group profits of more than $58 million in the six months to the end of September.