The recent merger between US-based Lycos and Spain's Terra Networks will result in a global Internet company with US$3 billion in cash and ambitions to dominate the world portal market, according to Eric Gerritsen, Lycos vice-president for international business development. Mr Gerritsen, in Hong Kong this week for the launch of the Lycos Hong Kong site, said Asian expansion was a key part of the merged entity's ambitions. Joint ventures such as the 10-country Asian portal project Lycos announced with Singapore Telecom in September will be launched as scheduled as Terra's US$12.5 billion bid for Lycos goes through, Mr Gerritsen said. The 50:50 joint venture with Singtel - which has been launched in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan with plans to expand in the mainland and Indian markets - would only be affected in that Terra Lycos would be a much stronger partner, he said. Terra Lycos would be 'a true global Web player, unlike some other hybrids that exist out there', Mr Gerritsen said. Among Lycos' competitors is the soon-to-be-merged America Online-Time Warner, which in Hong Kong operates a dial-up Internet service provider in partnership with Chinadotcom. Aggressive investment in Asia was key to the new Lycos' strategy, he said. Possible partners in the region include local Internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile networks that can deliver users to the Lycos network; content providers in specialised areas; and technology firms that can help Lycos tailor its content for wireless space. In this region, it is interested in buying into companies that have built double-byte enabled community tools - or chat and messaging software that allow users to type and read characters, said Thomas Cheong, chief financial officer for Lycos Asia. 'If we come across some interesting ones which are localised for the market then we will certainly look at acquiring them' he said, noting that many of the US-developed tools are not double-byte enabled for content in Asia. The mainland is on the agenda for Lycos Asia, though the company will first seek the necessary licences and local partners, the executives said. Lycos, which started as a search engine based on technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University, has been neck-and-neck with Yahoo! in terms of audience reach in the US and overseas. In teaming with Terra, Lycos is betting markets outside of the US will be key in beating its rival. Audience reach for search and portal sites is measured by the percentage of overall Web users that access a site. In Germany, where Lycos operates as a joint venture with music and publishing giant Bertelsmann, Lycos this year attained a 44 per cent reach, against 40 per cent for Yahoo!. Mr Gerritsen estimates that within three years, two-thirds of the Internet's projected 600 million users will come from outside the US. Lycos first embarked on Asian expansion through a joint venture with Sumitomo Corp, Internet Initiative Japan and Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co. There it learned lessons later applied to the Korean joint venture with Mirae Corp, Mr Gerritsen said. As of October last year, Lycos claimed more than 32 million registered users on its network of sites, which includes brands such as Lycos.com, Tripod, Who Where, Angelfire, MailCity, HotBot, HotWired, Wired News, Webmonkey and Gamesville. The sites to be launched with Singtel will include Lycos.com and Tripod, a personal home-page site. Lycos Asia will eventually include an Asian version of Lycos' on-line store, which in the US hosts about 2,400 merchants. Mr Cheong said half of Lycos Inc's revenues now come from electronic commerce. Its Asian sites will emphasise commerce as well as wireless applications. The company has formed alliances with telecoms firms in Taiwan and Malaysia and was looking at partnerships in Hong Kong.