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Sony backs hotspot gameplay as the way ahead

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Wireless networking is set to form a key part of Sony's grand plan for its next-generation hardware, gi.biz has learned, with the company's vision of the future banking heavily on the proliferation of high-speed wireless hotspots in the home and in public places.

It's already well known that the PlayStation Portable will feature hardware supporting the 802.11 wireless networking system, but new details of Sony's future vision reveal that this will not only be used for multiplayer between PSP devices - and explain why the company opted for the more expensive and power-hungry 802.11 standard rather than the seemingly more logical Bluetooth wireless system.

Well-placed sources have informed us that Sony plans to use wireless networking not only for multiplayer between PSP devices, but also to link the PSP with the next-generation home console, PS3, and with wireless Internet "hot spots" to enable online multiplayer and Internet communication functionality.

The company has been talking in private about its aims of speeding up the roll-out of wireless network hardware to individual homes so that the PSP can be used to its full advantage - with the obvious implication being that the PS3 will be wireless LAN enabled in some form, allowing users to easily connect a PSP to the next-generation console and access a full range of media, including games, movies, music and online media, using the PSP as a wires-free terminal for the system.

Even more intriguing than Sony's vision for the home, however, is the company's ambition for the PSP on the move - and the steps that it is taking to realise its goals. Wireless hot spots, offering Internet access at speeds of up to 10mb/sec (20 times faster than the average home broadband connection) are springing up rapidly in towns and cities around the world, and Sony plans to take advantage of this new form of connectivity to offer a range of media services, multiplayer games and online functionality to PSP.

However, one of the biggest problems with wireless hotspots at the moment is that they are operated by a wide range of providers, and an individual subscription is required for each network of hot spots. For example, in the UK, hotspots located at Starbucks outlets are operated by T-Mobile, while those at McDonalds and at airport departure lounges are operated by BT Openzone - and a subscription to one service is no good when in a service location belonging to the other provider.

To get around this problem, Sony is planning to negotiate with a wide range of hotspot providers to create a unified "PSP Wireless Service", which would see users of the console paying a single subscription fee which gives them access to hotspots operated by a number of different providers, as well as a range of Sony services.

At present we are only aware of plans to create this service in Japan - but given that the exact same range of challenges and opportunities exist in the wireless market in Europe and North America, we would be very surprised if SCEE and SCEA weren't working on implementing the same model.

Sony has previously talked about the possibility of releasing add-ons for the PSP which would allow it to use more traditional GSM and GPRS mobile phone networks, but the company's real focus is obviously on the 802.11 technology, which offers far higher speeds (albeit at the expense of far more restricted coverage) and opens up possibilities for media streaming and gameplay which would simply be untenable on the traditional mobile systems.

The company's vision for a connected world is also known to extend well beyond the realms of its game devices - and includes concepts such as televisions, cable and satellite boxes, DVD players and other home media appliances which would be equipped with Cell processors and Bluetooth short range networking systems, and communicated with each other wirelessly on a constant basis.

Copyright © 2004, www.gamesindustry.biz

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