WHARF Cable officially becomes Hongkong's first cable television operator today, ending 30 months of uncertainty for the company and more than seven years of waiting for the territory. At a presentation ceremony yesterday, Wharf managing director Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, was handed the piece of paper by the Secretary for Recreation and Culture, James So Yiu-cho, that gives the ambitious $5 billion project the go-ahead. Mr Ng promised that by late October, Hongkong would be able to tune into the first ''locally originated multi-channel pay service in the world''. He also heralded the Wharf Cable service as the first in Asia to have its own 24-hour news service and the world's first in Chinese. Because of Wharf's potential audience, it could become one of the largest cable television broadcasters in the world. While admitting the road to give Hongkong subscription television ''has had its bumps along the way'', Mr So predicted that Wharf Cable was ''going to be highly beneficial to Hongkong both socially and economically'' and help establish Hongkong as the broadcasting hub of Asia. ''The Hongkong Government recognises this, and we are delighted that the Chinese Government thinks the same in that they have had no problem in giving their blessing to the Wharf Cable licence which straddles 1997 and extends well into the next century,'' he said. China had threatened not to honour franchises after 1997 it had not approved, including Wharf's 12-year pay-TV licence . Chairman of the Broadcasting Authority, Sir Roger Lobo, said: ''This is a service centre hub and a banking centre - we have to give something to people who are going to stay here. Without having the expatriate community in Hongkong, this could become, really, a Chinese village. ''Now let's see what people say - whether they complain or praise,'' said the head of the broadcasting watchdog, which drew up the code of practice to regulate pay-TV. While Wharf has maintained that it has had to proceed as if it had already been awarded the licence, according to Mr Ng, ''the real hard work is yet to come''. From today, Wharf will be able to complete programming deals in the pipeline here and overseas, Mr Ng said. By the time Wharf goes on air, it plans to have a stock of six months worth of programming for the eight channels which will make up the initial $180 a month basic package. Deals will also have to be in place for the premium channels, which will be launched in 1994 and are expected to cost around $100 each a month. Much emphasis is being placed on local programming and in the next two to three months, Mr Ng estimated Wharf will spend upwards of $50 million on commissioning local telefeatures, mini-series, lifestyle segments and music videos. The idea of pay-TV for Hongkong was first suggested in the 1985 Broadcasting Review. The first licence was awarded in August 1990 to a Wharf-led consortium, Hongkong Cable Communications, but by December it had collapsed. The policy branch, Recreation and Culture, went back to the drawing board, conducting further reviews and eventually calling for tenders last September. Wharf was the sole applicant.