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PSP to feature wireless connectivity

Internet access abilities and E3 2K4 appearance confirmed.

Speaking to developers in Tokyo today, Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi has confirmed that the PlayStation Portable will come equipped with wireless networking functionality.

According to a report on Bloomberg, Kutaragi-san told the meeting of developers and publishers that the device will be able to access the Internet wirelessly through local area networks - suggesting that the system will use either 802.11 wireless networking technology.

The system will also have an infrared connection for linking with other devices, however - which is a little odd given the inclusion of the superior 802.11 technology (which doesn't require line of sight and gives far higher speeds), but may serve a slightly different role on the device.

It's a logical progression for the system, which already features functionality for gaming, movie and music playback, and basic PDA functions. Adding wireless network access would certainly complement the existing specification of the device - and would fit with other suggestions made by Kutaragi about future additions to the PSP, which could turn it into a portable television or an in-car navigation system.

"I want to make it the ultimate mobile device," Kutaragi told the meeting. "I need your support for that." What he seems to be aiming for, however, is a mobile technology equivalent of the Swiss Army knife - a flexible and powerful piece of equipment capable of fulfilling an extraordinarily wide range of roles depending on what software and hardware it's loaded out with.

Sony's approach with the PSP is gradually becoming clearer, and it's now been confirmed that the device will appear in prototype form at E3 next year, ahead of a Q4 2004 launch. The company's ambition for the handheld market is extremely wide but very simple - just as it wishes to put a PlayStation in every living room (whether it's fulfilling a game-playing role or not), it wishes to put a PSP in every pocket. If simple organisers like the PalmPilot or Clie devices are Personal Digital Organisers, the PSP is a Personal Digital Companion - it carries your media, plays your games, connects you to the Internet wirelessly, acts as a communication deck, handles basic organiser functions and may even provide you with a navigation system or a television on the move.

If Chris Deering's suggestion that the device will be competitively priced compared with the likes of the GameBoy turns out to be true, Sony may indeed have just created a piece of kit which has wider appeal than the walkman ever did - and which will be as ubiquitous as the mobile phone within a few years. It's certainly a gamble for the company, but it's becoming increasingly clear with every announcement that the potential payoff is total dominance of an incredibly important future market.