Hong Kong telephone numbers are becoming a valuable commodity for overseas providers of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services. At a recent industry forum, Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay said he had been approached by five major overseas operators, who offered to buy HKBN's Hong Kong numbers. The operators, such as United States-based Vonage, need the numbers so their customers can dial Hong Kong for the price of a local call. The telecoms authority is studying a proposal to create special prefixes for VoIP services, which would substantially increase the supply of numbers. Until then, licensed carriers such as HKBN are sitting on a potential gold mine. One source told Earful that US operator AT&T was interested in buying numbers. But Mr Wong said the biggest demand for numbers 'is really from the north', adding he had rejected requests to sell out. Separately, Earful has heard China Netcom is studying a VoIP service offering. There will be no shortage of Hong Kong numbers for it should a proposed merger with PCCW's fixed-line operations be completed. Craig Ehrlich, former group managing director for Sunday Communications, has beaten Telecom Italia's chief executive Riccardo Ruggiero for another term as global chairman of the GSM Association. Already, Mr Ehrlich is making bold predictions about the future of GSM. He told a Filipino website that about 90 per cent of the spectators at the 2008 Beijing Olympics would be using either GSM or W-CDMA phones. That would make GSM hands down the gold medal winner of the global mobile phone industry. Earful has learned Hutchison Telecommunications is about to launch a third 3G handset for its popular LG line-up. The LG 8138 differs from its 'elder sisters', the 8120 and 8130, in that it has an external colour screen. In the third quarter, LG overtook Sony Ericsson to become the fifth-largest handset vendor worldwide.