Copper cables could be abandoned in favour of wireless communications in the race to fulfil China's telecommunications ambitions. Mainland authorities, with a heavy agenda of installing more than 20 million lines a year, are looking hard at taking the technology behind the mobile phone and applying it to the home. The technique is known as wireless local loop (WLL) and offers a quicker, easier and cheaper way to provide telephones, particularly in rural areas. Rather than use copper wire or cable, phones are connected to small antennae which transmit conversations to a central mast which is linked to the main public network. In theory, voice quality is equal to a land connection. Without the need to lay an extensive cable network, one of the main advantages is speed of deployment. It is usually reckoned that the investment needed per subscriber on a fixed line network is about US$1,000 to $1,500. 'We believe wireless local loop systems have now brought that down to about $500 per subscriber,' said Thomas Eby, vice-president of the US computer and electronics group AMD. AMD sells a component to the manufacturers of wireless local loop systems that causes the phone to ring. 'The biggest growth of wireless local loop systems will be in Asia - and the bulk in China,' he said. Few places in the world have deployed WLL commercially, partly because of technology gremlins and party because the price is still too high. The mainland has several trials of WLL running in co-operation with a group of vendors, including Motorola, Seimens, Ericsson and Fujitsu. Motorola China's director of marketing operations Tim Chen said at an Institute of International Research conference last week: 'By 2000 motorola estimates 10 to 15 per cent of the line growth will be using WLL.' Professor Qiliang Zhu, of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, was more downbeat about the short-term prospects. In rural areas, about 450,000 out of 740,000 villages still do not have access to a telephone. To meet the target of providing a telephone for every village by 2000, he reckoned, WLL would have about half a million subscribers by 2000. However, that is tiny in comparison with the forecast 123 million national phone subscribers by that date.