Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Innovations: Nintendo Wi-Fi

By Kate Bulkley

The Guardian

Thursday November 10, 2005

Can the gaming giant make wireless technology simple and fun to use?

Nintendo will this month begin selling the first Wi-Fi-enabled games for its handheld DS console. It has linked up with hotspot providers BT Openzone and The Cloud to provide 7,500 free Wi-Fi locations across the UK, including 500 McDonald's, 25 student unions, First Great Western train stations and football stadiums.

Wi-Fi marketing was previously aimed mainly at the business community on the move; the deal with Nintendo is the first time that gaming has been added to the proposition.

There are already 400,000 DS machines in the UK that will support the new Wi-Fi games. On November 25, the first of six planned Wi-Fi games will go on sale, including a version of Mario Kart and Tony Hawk's American SK8Land in 3D.

The project is obviously aimed at selling more games for Nintendo, while BT Openzone and The Cloud will pick up fees from the gaming giant, which wants customer usage to be free. "We managed to negotiate very well on the Wi-Fi access and we hope we will sell a lot of games," says Yarnton.

The access may be free to gamers, but it's clear that Nintendo has plans for other products, perhaps charging for premium games, or to download new games direct from the Wi-Fi network for a fee.

Nintendo is doing a similar deal in the US with Wi-Fi provider Wayport for 6,000 McDonald's restaurants - and users in the UK can play their US counterparts on the free Wi-Fi connection.

The Wi-Fi industry will be following the takeup of Nintendo's games as it tries to work out more reliable business plans to broaden public wireless internet technology. Despite the growing availability of hotspots, a recent Gartner study of UK business travellers found that only 17% used them.

The primary problems are that Wi-Fi is both complex and expensive to use, with providers such as BT and T-Mobile and venues such as hotels and airports charging different fees, with rates as high as 5 an hour.


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