PLANNING and hard work are the keys to success for Wharf's cable television network, according to the company's newly-arrived American specialist. ''Never imagine there's any magic in this trade,'' said Mr David Keefe, the director of cable operations at Wharf Cable. ''There's no luck, either . . . and there's no forgiveness if you fail,'' he said. Mr Keefe is ploughing ahead with with the cable segment of Hongkong's long-delayed $11 billion cable television/second telecommunications network. The 43-year-old is taking on a high-risk enterprise that has so far taken more than six years of failure on the part of all parties. It will no doubt take a few more knocks before the first programming is transmitted to up to a million Hongkong homes. In the United States, it had taken about a decade to build cable television networks serving 500,000 subscribers, said Mr Keefe. ''So don't be too tough on Hongkong,'' he said. Analysts believe Wharf Cable is banking on up to $2 billion in revenue from a $5 billion investment within five years, while hoping for market penetration of at least 40 per cent. A major part of the revenues will come from a monthly fee of $170 a month from subscribers. ''In Hongkong, because we will initially be going with a microwave delivery system to our subscribers, we will start a revenue stream almost immediately, since by launch we believe that the signal will be available to about 75 per cent of the population,'' said Mr Keefe. ''In the US, you build a mile of cable and then you hook the customers up.'' Another advantage of initially creating a microwave system is that there is no urgent need to trench new wiring into roads and pavements. And, of course, unlike anywhere else in the world, the final Wharf Cable system will have the capacity to carry Hongkong's second telecommunications network. This should be permitted to carry data transmissions in just 18 months' time and voice telephony in mid-1995. Already, more than $500 million is estimated to have been outlayed on the current cable/telecoms project. That does not include the estimated $400 million losses suffered in Wharf's last attempt at establishing a similar network a couple of years ago. ''I've been involved in big projects before. But nothing this big,'' said Mr Keefe, with a touch of awe. ''Mind you, nobody else has been either. Over the lifetime of the system [eight to 10 years] we reckon we could even get as many as a million homes as subscribers. ''That would make us by far the biggest system in the world.'' The Chinese Government has, of course, indicated that it could refuse to ratify any Hongkong Government franchises that straddle the core date of 1997. ''I can't comment on that,'' said Mr Keefe. ''But I will say that I have complete faith we will see this through.'' Other Wharf sources have indicated that $150 million will be expended over the next five or six years for a backbone fibre optic wiring system. This will be built as a back-up to the microwave delivery system (which is licensed for just five years) to the territory's almost 10,000 housing blocks. Recently, Wharf Cable announced it would immediately begin wiring the 1,700 Housing Authority buildings, along with 8,000 private blocks. It would also complete the microwave delivery system of masts and receivers - supplied by British firm Marconi Electronics - from 13 hilltops around Hongkong. Ever cautious about financial details, Mr Keefe put a price tag of ''several million'' dollars on the microwave plan. Other sources suggest something in the region of HK$45 million for the Marconi contract. Wharf should have its first microwave antennae in place in the summer in north Hongkong Island, Sha Tin, the Kowloon Peninsula and Tsuen Wan, giving coverage of some 65 per cent of the territory's housing base by launch time, said Mr Keefe. Meanwhile, the Hongkong Government is demanding that Wharf Cable set up six channels when it launches in October, add another three channels six months later, and another three six months following that. It remains to be seen whether a programming mix of 10 Cantonese channels with two English channels 12 months after launch will be attractive enough to gain the forecast 40 per cent penetration within five years. From a marketing point of view, Mr Keefe has found the environment to be very different from the American and European experience. In North America and Europe, for instance, people stay home and wait for the the cable system installer to drop by. ''But you can't make people stay home all day in Hongkong,'' said Mr Keefe. ''Everyone goes to work. That's why we expect a large percentage of our sales to be done on weekends and after 6 pm, Monday to Friday.'' The estimated cost of wiring a flat for cable television in Hongkong is considerably cheaper than in the US, and is put by some professionals at 50 per cent less than the American norm of US$200 (about HK$1,560). Mr Keefe started in the American cable television industry in 1972 in the tough market of Quincy, Massachusetts, and would seem to have been looking for challenges ever since. ''The US cable TV industry in those days was looking at little more than 30 per cent penetration in almost any market,'' he said. ''But by the time I had finished in Quincy there was only one building left in the city that hadn't been wired. It was my mother's. And this will be no different to anywhere else.'' Certainly, it was the same when Mr Keefe was involved a project in South Central Los Angeles, a distinctly tough and gang-ridden area. So, thoughts that organised crime gangs would make the wiring of the often lawless Mongkok area impossible should be discounted, said Mr Keefe. ''Eventually, the consumer prevails, providing the programming is what he wants,'' he said.