Singapore Telecommunications has confirmed it has been in talks with two Hong Kong operators, including New World Mobility, to participate in the SAR's third-generation (3G) mobile market. SingTel is planning to operate 3G mobile networks in six Asian markets outside its home base - Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. 'We have ambitions of becoming the regional leader in the wireless communications world,' SingTel Mobile chief executive Lucas Chow told reporters in Singapore. 'At the end of the day, size is everything.' SingTel's ambitions pose a challenge to Pacific Century CyberWorks, which this week is to announce a regional mobile joint venture with Australia's Telstra. Mr Chow said SingTel was keen to build a pan-Asian 3G mobile network through joint ventures with regional telecoms players. This would take the form of either direct investment or mobile virtual network operations (MVNO), where it would buy air time at a discount from existing operators. 'The best-case scenario for us is to partner a good incumbent in Hong Kong, win a licence and sell capacity to Virgin Mobile,' Mr Chow told the Business Post yesterday. Earlier this year SingTel established a 50:50 mobile joint venture with Richard Branson's Britain-based Virgin Group in a US$1 billion transaction. Under the trademark Virgin Mobile, the MVNO will offer services in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, beginning in the first quarter next year. The venture, which aims to capture 500,000 customers throughout the region within 18 months, is finalising trademark licensing and telecoms supplier agreements. According to industry sources, SingTel and New World Mobility, the 88 per cent-owned unit of New World Development, have been in talks for month to form a mobile joint venture. However, it seems the proposed framework for allocating 3G licences in Hong Kong could make collaboration less likely. Under the Office of the Telecommunications Authority's proposals, 3G operators will be required to open 30 per cent to 50 per cent of their networks to MVNOs. As a consequence, SingTel could enter the market without having to buy into an existing operator. New World Mobility may also be reluctant to sell a stake to SingTel given the existing depressed prices for mobile telecoms stocks. However, analysts said SingTel, which tried unsuccessfully to buy Cable & Wireless HKT earlier this year, was anxious to get into the Hong Kong market. It is reportedly still interested in buying a 50 per cent stake in New World's fixed-line network. Buying a controlling stake in both the fixed-line and mobile networks would enable SingTel to become a serious contender in Hong Kong. Officials for the New World group were unavailable for comment yesterday. SingTel owns a third of Globe Telecom, the second-biggest mobile-phone operator in the Philippines, and a fifth of Advanced Info Services, Thailand's biggest mobile-phone company. It said it would spend S$1.3 billion (about HK$5.8 billion) in Singapore during the next 10 years to build the infrastructure for its 3G network. Earlier this year SingTel said it planned to list its mobile assets, which at present have about five million users.