INFA Telecom Asia might not be a household name, but it has become one of the major players in the telecommunications sector in Hong Kong and China. It has kept a low profile partly because Infa Telecom is still privately owned by managing director Peter Tsang, and there are no immediate plans to seek a listing - an unusual position, given the flurry of public offerings to hit the Hong Kong stock market this year. However, within the next couple of weeks the group may lose its anonymity if it and New World Development are successful in their bid to win a licence from the Government to operate a fixed telephone network service. The joint venture, called New World Telephone, is one of five consortiums left in the running for one of the licences. A decision is expected soon. The group plans to make an initial investment of $2 billion. Mr Tsang says other minority investors might be invited to join the company in the future if services such as cable television are offered. New World and Infa Telecom, which expects annual sales of $500 million next year, are represented in Hong Kong's telecommunications sector through New World Paging, a joint venture launched in 1991. New World Paging is the fifth-largest paging company in Hong Kong, with 45,000 subscribers. It has quickly carved out a niche in a market now suffering slow growth, by offering innovative services. This has forced the competition to play catch-up. New World Paging demonstrated this ability from the start of operations. Clients could have an operator to answer incoming calls with a predetermined message, rather than simply identify the client by his or her account number. New World Paging was also the first company to offer pagers that used tunes rather than a beeping noise, which helped it attract female clients, few of whom used pagers. Women now account for 30 per cent of New World's subscribers, compared with the industry rate of 10 per cent. ''It's all market-driven and that is what we are good at. Our business has never been technology-driven, it's always been market-driven,'' says Mr Tsang. He adds that New World Paging's focus on service and product innovation has helped it to attract one in every six new paging customers. Infa's involvement in telecommunications extends to pagers, cellular telephones and CT2 telephones. Last year, the company sold 100,000 cellular and CT2 telephones under its own brand name and those of major suppliers such as Nokia and Motorola. Mr Tsang says Infa has sold 30,000 CT2 units in China, allowing Infa to grab an important foothold in China's rapidly-growing market. He says there are 12 mainland cities with a CT2 network, and Infa has sold to four. Mr Tsang says CT2 offers a far more promising opportunity in China than other systems because setting up the necessary infrastructure is less expensive. A cellular system might cost $200 million to $300 million to set up, whereas a CT2 system costs $20 million to $30 million. Mr Tsang says healthy margins can still be made on CT2 sales to China, whereas in Hong Kong, suppliers are selling CT2 telephones at less than cost price to get clients on to the system. Sales of multi-channel recorders are also lucrative. They are used at airports, power stations and investment firms to record voice and electronic data. Mr Tsang says Infa has 70 per cent of the multi-channel recorder market, including sale and service agreements with more than 90 financial institutions. Infa's larger clients in Hong Kong include the stock exchange and the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, which uses 2,000 voice channels to record bets placed over the telephone on race days. Infa also designs and supplies specialised mobile telecommunication systems for the oil industry, military operations and coastal stations, and on-site paging systems for hospitals and hotels. Its clients include Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Ltd (HACTL), Hongkong Bank, the Kowloon Taxi Owners' Association, the Macau Security Forces, the Mass Transit Railway Corp, China Light and Power and the Customs and Excise Department. Mr Tsang, who started Infa in 1969, says it might consider issuing stock in a couple of years, when Infa needs to expand its operations in China, particularly a move into manufacturing following the recent signing of two joint venture deals to make cellular telephones and multi-channel recorders in Jiangsu province.