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Sega rallies BT, ICL for Dreamcast Net freebie

Console hopes free Internet access will persuade buyers not to wait for PlayStation 2

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BT, ICL and Sega are joining forces to launch Europe-wide free Internet access -- snag is, you'll have to buy a Sega Dreamcast games console to use it. The console, which includes a modem and somewhere to plug your phone, is being branded more as a home entertainment centre rather just something that keeps kids occupied for hours. Ironically, such a service could help to further undermine AOL's European operation (see previous story) especially in those countries where the concept of subscription-free Net access is unheard of. At the same time, it's worth bearing in mind Dreamcast sales to date have been less than spectacular, even among the ususally techno-hungry Japanese. Sony seems to have very effectively nipped Dreamcast sales through its clever spoiling tactic of announcing its Playstation 2 well in advance of its shipment. Playstation 2 will also feature Internet connectivity, plus support for consumer electronics gadgets such as printers and digital cameras. In tone it will be more like an early 80s home computer than an early 90s game console -- in other words, it will be mainly used for games, but can at least do other things too. Meanwhile, as well as access to the Web, e-mail, and chat Sega is also planning to offer on-line shopping. Of course, the big hook for games' fans will be access to online games. "This will be another Internet first, as Dreamcast will be the first ever games console to make use of the Internet," said Derek Sayers, MD of ICL's Electronic Business Services unit. Last month UK-based Kingfisher and Group Arnault said they were to offer subscription-free Net access throughout Europe. Initially, it will only be available in France but both companies have plans to roll out the service throughout the rest of Europe, including the UK. ®

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