Wharf group's telecoms arm, New T&T, said its cable-telephony project with sister company Wharf Cable may not go ahead this year. The company said this was partly because of the huge costs involved in upgrades to its fibre-optic infrastructure to support the increased data transfer. New T&T president Leslie Harris said it would cost about US$600 to US$700 per household to fit the necessary equipment. 'It requires both hardening of the outside network and some equipment inside the home,' he said. Since Wharf Cable has passed about 600,000 homes with fibre-optics, it would potentially cost up to HK$2.8 billion to upgrade its entire network to be cable telephony-ready. According to Wharf (Holdings) latest annual report, for 1997, the book value of New T&T and Wharf Cable combined - which analysts guessed comprised mainly the fibre-optic cable networks of the two companies - was only HK$3.1 billion. At present, however, investment analysts believe only a little over half of Wharf Cable's 400,000 subscribers - who would make up the immediate target market - receive the cable service on fibre-optics. That made the initial investment needed to start the service probably slightly more palatable, analysts said. Mr Harris said New T&T was considering the service because it would potentially expand its user base and provide the company with capital and operational-expense savings. But the decision on whether to proceed with the project would also depend on considerations such as the cost and availability of financing, he said. A New T&T spokeman said on Friday that meetings were being held to consider the project, and no decisions had been made yet. The spokesman said there were also some implementation concerns, such as how best to co-operate with Wharf Cable on the project. Another New T&T middle-management executive said there was no time-table guiding the project's implementation. Earlier this year, the companies had said they were close to introducing the cable-telephony service. This would eventually encompass multimedia, data transfer and ultra-fast Internet connections via cable modem and voice telephone services, bundled together over the same broadband fibre-optic cable network. However, Mr Harris said the trials have not gone beyond laboratory experiments. 'I can't guarantee the operational trials will occur this year,' he said. He said, however, that if they did occur this year, the trials would involve about 1,000 homes.