Networking integrator Datacraft Asia, a Cisco Systems reseller, expects more deals to follow Cisco's contract to sell communications equipment for the world's largest VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) network to be built for China United Telecommunications. China Unicom, the mainland's second-largest telecoms carrier, said in November it chose San Jose, California-based Cisco as the lead supplier in a multimillion-dollar backbone spanning more than 319 cities across 30 provinces. 'You can expect some more,' Ho Chee Weng, a Datacraft business manager, said last week at the ITU Telecom Asia conference in Hong Kong. Datacraft, based in Singapore, links networks and operates in 13 Asia-Pacific countries. 'There are some multi-million-dollar projects [under discussion] in Asian countries,' he said. Mr Ho said talks were underway for another two agreements in the Asia-Pacific region, which 'may be bigger' than the deal between Cisco and China Unicom. Sources close to both companies said one of the two deals was with an Indonesian-based telecoms company. VoIP is an alternative to traditional telephone calls, which use lines for conversations and tend to be expensive due to high tariffs. Phone conversations also hog the pipeline. VoIP is a way of hiding voice in data measurements called packets, and then shooting the packets down data, or Internet, networks. Because each packet zips down various pipelines to reach its destination, VoIP takes advantage of the spaces between other data transmissions. Not all packets travelling between the same two hosts, even those from a single message, will necessarily follow the same route. The destination computer reassembles the packets into sequence. It is still less reliable than a telephone call, but much less expensive. There is some debate whether the quality will reach the standards set by standard phone calls. China, taking a forward-looking approach, already has adopted VoIP, said analyst Alistair Scott at Merrill Lynch. Many companies debate whether to switch to VoIP as their markets liberalise and foreign companies are allowed to compete in local markets. China is negotiating to join the World Trade Organisation next year. For its part in the Cisco-China Unicom deal, Datacraft and partner NetSpeak, based in Boca Raton, Florida, would receive US$1.9 million, Mr Ho said. NetSpeak makes VoIP software that rides on top of Internet protocol networks. Datacraft's portion of the Cisco-China Unicom deal is not huge compared with annual turnover. For its fiscal year ended June 30, Datacraft - which is traded on the Singapore stock market - reported US$417 million in revenues. However, expansion has meant it now faced rivals such as IBM in its arena, Mr Ho said. He is hoping for more growth in the VoIP area. Probe Research estimates China's VoIP services will make up to 20 per cent of all packet-based telephony traffic, a total of 570 billion voice minutes, carried worldwide by 2005. About 7.7 billion minutes of voice traffic are now transmitted via packet networks a year. NetSpeak, traded on Nasdaq, also anticipates explosive growth in Asia's VoIP market, according to vice-president of communications, Scott St Clair. The company planned to open an office in Beijing after Lunar New Year and recently opened offshoots in Singapore and Tokyo, Mr St Clair said.