It has been a big 12 months for the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) and the telecommunications industry. With the conclusion of negotiations on basic telecommunications - business left over from the Uruguay round of trade negotiations - in February this year, Hong Kong is committed to maintaining its market liberalisation and extending the opening of its international market. Four operators will share the local fixed-network until June 30 next year and a subsequent review will decide whether to issue further licences. Because of the exclusive licence over international traffic held by Hongkong Telecom International (HKTI), the Hong Kong offer on international services was confined to loophole services identified by OFTA last year. The commitment to allow unlimited International Simple Resale (ISR) of fax and data, Virtual Private Networks and Call-Back services, which are not covered by the letter of the HKTI licence, represents a further erosion of the HKTI monopoly. The call-back system has been with us for some time. Even Hongkong Telecom, which argued against allowing call back, now offers a cut rate call-back service. Lower charges for international calls have contributed to a big rise in IDD and data traffic in recent years. In calendar 1996, the incoming and outgoing total was 3.5 billion minutes, up from just two billion minutes in 1992. Last month, OFTA issued 14 licences for Virtual Private Networks. These are typically used by multi-national companies for transmitting voice and data between offices. Among the licensees were all four local fixed-network operators. Licences for International Simple Resale of fax and data services will be issued in the near future, according to Anthony Wong, Director-General of Telecommunications and the Telecommunications Authority. These will mean even more competition in the international telephone market and OFTA will try to ensure their introduction is accomplished smoothly. What does the World Trade Organisation deal mean for Hong Kong? The Legislative Council's Economic Services Panel said it 'should accelerate telecommunications liberalisation worldwide and provide expanded opportunities for Hong Kong investors seeking to take advantage of Hong Kong's well- established and competitive telecommunications skills by setting up external operations'. For consumers, global liberalisation is sure to mean lower prices and better services. The Hong Kong fixed network is, to a large extent, still a one-player game, with Hongkong Telecom's dominant position under no serious immediate threat. The three new operators are continuing with their network roll-out and, with local line rental at or below cost, most competition will be seen in the market for international traffic and high value corporate customers. Cellular is a different story, with competition in full force and prices in a downward trend. This time last year, the latest figures showed 888,000 cellular subscribers. That was up by more than 300,000 on the previous 12 months. This year, there were more than 1.4 million cellular subscribers by the end of April and OFTA's Mr Wong is predicting two million by the end of the year with the introduction of Personal Communications Services (PCS). With liberalisation well on its way in fixed and mobile telephones, the territory can expect to see a new emphasis from OFTA and its government cousins in coming months. While other regional centres have laid out grand plans for the development of their versions of the Information Superhighway, Hong Kong has, until recently, left everything to the market. Hong Kong will almost certainly never see a government- funded scheme to help develop broad-band delivery, but OFTA has set up a new co-ordinating body: the Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee (IIAC) which has begun meeting to ensure all the required physical infrastructure is in place as new services come to market.