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Sony forges wireless deal for PlayStation

The consumer electronics giant partners with NTT DoCoMo to bring the PlayStation to NTT DoCoMo's wireless network.

Japanese firms NTT DoCoMo and Sony Computer Entertainment today announced a partnership to bring Sony's PlayStation to NTT DoCoMo's wireless network.

Under the terms of the deal, the two Japanese firms will jointly develop a wireless service that will allow NTT DoCoMo's I-mode phones to communicate with Sony's PlayStation game consoles. The service, which is being designed for conventional and Java-enabled cell phones, will let PlayStation game players communicate and share information via their phones.

The companies released few details, but it appears the wireless phones will be used to share information about games rather than to allow people to play games via the phones. Eventually, with broadband wireless Internet access of the type NTT is expected to offer, these types of data-intensive applications will be possible.

"Both firms hope their collaboration will inspire software makers to develop new services for a potential new I-mode and PlayStation entertainment network," NTT DoCoMo said in a statement.

Sony, which manufacturers one of the I-mode phones, recognizes the popularity of the service in Japan, where it is expected to reach 10 million users in the next week, as well as the expected boom in all types of wireless services in the next few years. There are expected to be over a billion cell phone users worldwide by 2003.

Meanwhile, Internet appliances, including TV set-top boxes, handheld computers and gaming consoles, are expected to grow from 11 million units shipped in 1999 to 89 million units in 2004, according to International Data Corp. The market will grow from revenue of $2.4 billion last year to $17.8 billion in 2004.

NTT DoCoMo's I-mode phone and service have become something of a phenomenon in Japan, where the wireless service has leapfrogged network and bandwidth limitations to offer next-generation features such as email, wireless Internet access and messaging. The carrier also is rumored to be close to offering AOL content and services on its phones.

"DoCoMo is turning itself into the most sterling example of what wireless can do in the world," said Richard Doherty, president of the The Envisioneering Group. "It's becoming its own standard."

NTT DoCoMo's success has been attributed to its popularity among teenagers and young adults, which is also the market for the PlayStation, Doherty said. "The only growth area left is teens," he said.

The alliance is part of Sony's ongoing effort to position the PlayStation as the hub of the networked home of the future. Sony has pinned the strategies of its digital audio and video product lines as well as its PCs on the success of the PlayStation2, which will offer broadband Internet access and a DVD player. The PlayStation2 has already been released in Japan and will be introduced in the United States in October.

Sony is not the only company targeting this market. Sega has similar hopes for its Dreamcast game console, and Microsoft is readying its first game console, the Xbox, for release next year. Microsoft yesterday released the software developers kit for the new console, in a bid to ensure there will be an ample supply of Xbox games when the console is released.

Wireless services and products appear to be playing an expanding role in Sony's evolving strategy. Sony is set to release its first personal digital assistant, based on the Palm operating system, this fall, and is expected to build wireless access into the device in the future.