It is decision time for Hong Kong's fixed-line operators. Even with access to incumbent PCCW's local loop due to end in 2008, now might be the time for competitors to consider cutting their losses before they dig up any more pavement. When New World Telephone, Hutchison Global Communications (HGC) and Wharf T&T embarked on their mission to provide more choice in telecommunications nine years ago, it was a much simpler time. The available services were essentially voice-only and the competition easier to spot - the juicy monopoly of C&W HKT. Now competition is much more elaborate, as technology has increased both the number of service providers and value-added services. Relying solely on voice revenues now looks a shaky business proposition, as call rates keep trending down. Today's phone lines are now capable of carrying a range of Internet, telephony and video services. The revenue pie might be larger, but so is the number of companies chasing it. New World Telephone, which relies heavily on interconnection due to its limited build-out, is most vulnerable to an early disconnection. HGC is in a much stronger position, with its modern fibre backbone capable of reaching over 80 per cent of Hong Kong households. Wharf New T&T has been slow to build its own network, still leasing half its lines from PCCW. Its most obvious option is to twin with sister company i-Cable Communications, which runs a hybrid fibre coaxial backbone reaching 80 per cent of Hong Kong homes. On paper Wharf's assets look a potent mix, enabling it to run telephone lines next to its established pay TV and broadband internet services. It might seem strange it has not done this before. The muddled regulatory regime might offer some explanation. If Wharf used its backbone for phone services, the chances are it would have been asked to open it to competitors. Where might that end; opening up its network to other pay TV operators? Wharf has given notice of its intention to proceed with a voice service, yet its priority is always going to be its cable TV business, which generated five times the profit of its phone business. And retaining or adding customers is likely to be decided by the Premier League football on offer, rather than an add-on phone-line extra. Still the group looks to be handily positioned. While PCCW will welcome the change, its ability to raise prices on voice calls is limited, even if some players exit. Competition from the likes of City Telecom, which has built its own network, can be expected to remain intense.