Changes will be taking place next summer at the Hong Kong Internet Exchange (HKIX), the territory's local point for exchanging intra-Hong Kong traffic without routing via the United States. Located on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the HKIX is used by about 24 Internet service providers (ISPs). Therefore, the slightest move from it would influence the whole of the Internet in Asia. For the last two years, the exchange has provided local ISPs with ethernet connection and on-site maintenance free of charge. But next summer the HKIX will start charging a fee to maintain the service. It will be calculated so that it covers the cost of the service, especially manpower which consists of four full-time staff and a senior manager. According to Cheng Che-hoo, head of the data communications and networking section of the information technology service unit, the move will enable the HKIX to provide more value-added services and is necessary as intra-Asia-Pacific connections are growing. Following the path of global providers such as AT&T or Global One, which were the first to establish intra-AP backbones choosing Hong Kong as their regional internet hub, more and more regional ISPs, including Hongkong Telecom's NetPlus and Asia-online, are choosing the intra-AP path. Intra-AP circuits are expensive but provide better and faster access for short-distance connections. Above all, they enable Asia to rely less on the US in terms of internet connections. Mr Cheng said he did not foresee any immediate impact on the HKIX which already handled up to 18 Mbps switching during peak hours. 'However, we do not want to stand still so we are looking at new ideas to help ISPs grow,' he said. One possible future option is the migration to higher speed with the support of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) concurrently to ethernet. Mr Cheng said Hongkong Telecom's IMS and NetPlus had already expressed interest in ATM switching in order to have more redundancy. 'If ATM happens to work well for internet connections, we will consider offering it as an option to ISPs,' Mr Cheng said. Fibre distributed data interface (FDDI), also known as LAN technology, is another connection option that is under study, according to Mr Cheng. More choices of carriers rather than solely Hongkong Telecom is another possibility being studied by the exchange. Mr Cheng indicated it had talked to other fixed telephone network service (FTNS) providers, especially those that were aggressively developing the infrastructure for fibre optical connection. Next on the summer agenda is the offering of more facility management (FM). By providing ISPs with space for their routers, electric power, air-conditioning and manpower the HKIX is already supplying a fair amount of it but would like to extend it by adding space for not just the ISP's routers but their web- servers. Representing 60 per cent of total traffic web traffic is the Internet's most popular applications.