IN less than a year, Hongkong Telecom's monopoly on local fixed-line telephony services will expire, paving the way for an era of competition. The entry of three new network competitors into the market on July 1 next year - New T and T Hong Kong, Hutchison Communications, and New World Telephone - will mark the most significant event in what has been a radical and on-going transformation in recent years of the territory's telecommunications industry. For the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA), allowing more service providers is the culmination of two years of intensive preparatory work to develop a regulatory framework under which - assuming all goes to plan - competition will flourish. The licensing of three new fixed-network providers clearly makes Hong Kong one of the most intensely competitive markets for telecommunications services in the world. It also makes Hong Kong perhaps the most complex telecommunications environment in the world, seen from a regulatory perspective. In an industry where the norm in most countries is an environment in which the government owns and operates telecommunications services as a monopoly, the Hong Kong market seems almost absurd with its more than 30 paging firms, four cellular telephone operators, four licensed CT2 operators, and - as of next July - three fixed-network operators. It is clear that Hong Kong's telecommunications needs are well served. But the industry's evolution is set to accelerate further with liberalisation of the fixed-line market. The changes will be quite radical, with improvements in existing services, introduction of innovations - video on demand being but one - and a lowering of overall costs of the services during the next several years. Hong Kong's Director-General of Telecommunications, Alex Arena, said consumers would notice changes from July 1 next year. Further changes would occur over time when competing operators started responding directly to consumer expectations. ''I would prefer to take a status check on competition after, say, three years,'' Mr Arena said. ''The telecom market will be phenomenally different. The whole price, product, and service mix will have changed. ''What will happen is that consumers will start saying what they like and what they do not like, and then all the operators will start changing things, including [the incumbent monopoly] Hongkong Telecom. ''Hongkong Telecom has already changed significantly in the past 12 months [in the run-up to allowing competition].'' It was in expectation of the added regulatory complexities that the Government established a separate and independent telecommunications regulator, a responsibility that had formerly been handled by a telecommunications branch within the Post Office. The decision to establish OFTA was based on the findings of a comprehensive policy review of the industry undertaken in 1992. In designing a new regulatory platform, policy-makers considered three over-riding objectives. First, that the widest possible range of telecom services be available to people at a reasonable cost. Second, that these services be provided in the most economically efficient manner possible. Third, that Hong Kong maintain its position as the pre-eminent telecommunications hub in the region. With these policy objectives in mind - and the decision having been made to establish OFTA - Mr Arena was recruited to head the new body as director-general of telecommunications. He assumed office on July 1 last year. The creation of OFTA prompted the transfer of 215 staff from the telecommunications branch of the Post Office. Since then, OFTA numbers have swelled to about 240, as specialist posts have been created to address specific issues. OFTA is something of a ''one-stop shop'', in that it designs and implements regulations for all forms of communication, whether it be radio, broadcasting, or telephonic. Its role extends well beyond acting as some kind of referee, ensuring fair and open competition. There is the plainly practical role OFTA plays in managing the radio frequency spectrum - a finite and extremely valuable public resource. Well over 100 OFTA staff are employed in the management and monitoring of the radio spectrum. Spectrum management is an enormously complex task. For a start, spectrum is a finite resource and, therefore, OFTA has to see to it that spectrum bandwidth is distributed and utilised efficiently. OFTA is responsible for allocating bandwidth for uses as diverse as trunk radio for taxi companies and broadcast bandwidth for radio and television stations. It also provides bandwidth for civil aviation authorities, and for fire brigade and ambulances services, and communications companies that provide paging services or cellular telephone operators. The numbers of users on the spectrum is incredibly diverse, and include the military and police. Once a frequency bandwidth has been allocated for a specific use, OFTA is responsible for making sure that each user stays within an allotted 'slice' of the spectrum.