The Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) has taken another step towards liberalisation by granting operators licences to offer tailored international services to multinationals. The telecom watchdog yesterday said 14 successful applicants had been given licences for the operation of so-called virtual private networks (VPN). There was no limit to the number of licences on offer and Ofta said more would be awarded as applications were received and processed. Hong Kong agreed to liberalise VPN by the end of this year, under its pledge to February's World Trade Organisation accord on basic telecom services. All of Hong Kong's fixed line operators - Hutchison Telecom, New World Telephone, New T&T and Hongkong Telecom - were given the right to offer the service. Hong Kong's largest call-back company, City Telecom, was also given a licence, as were global operators, British Telecom and the Global One consortium. The licences will allow operators to offer private networks to multinational companies with offices in Hong Kong, through which they can send voice and data traffic to other parts of their company around the world. In the past, this was possible only for data transmissions. Traffic within overseas branch offices or affiliated companies has become a significant part of business communications, Director General of Telecommunications Anthony Wong Sik-kei said. 'VPN licences will bring about more choices, better quality of services and lower prices to business users for international communications,' he said. 'It will enhance Hong Kong's position as a financial and commercial centre in the region.'