£17.5m BT deal enables broadband gaming links

Arcade game machine network operator Inspired Business Networks has signed a £17.5m three-year deal with BT to ADSL-enable more...

Arcade game machine network operator Inspired Business Networks has signed a £17.5m three-year deal with BT to ADSL-enable more than 3,000 gaming machines.

The deal - which is claimed to be the biggest ADSL conversion yet in the UK - has been hailed by Ovum research director Neil Ward-Dutton as a distinct step forward in pervasive computing, where everyday objects are networked for control or monitoring purposes.

Under the first part of the deal around 3,500 PC-based gaming machines in pubs, arcades, betting shops and services stations will be converted from ISDN to ADSL connections, with up to 18,000 being connected in the next three years.

Linking the machines to the company's datacentre through a broadband connection means they can be updated where they stand. The key benefits are the ability to download large amounts of content and control and monitor the terminals remotely.

Ward-Dutton said: "It is an interesting and excellent example of where pervasive computing makes sense - taking a product and making it into a service."

By being connected to the company's datacentre a number of games can be hosted on a single terminal, tournaments between players in different locations can take place and jukebox machines can take advantage of the vast number of music tracks held remotely on servers at the company headquarters.

Inspired Business Networks chairman, Russell Hoyle said, "There are major challenges involved in scheduling and handling the amount of content involved. But we know everything that is happening on a terminal and besides gathering customer information we can fix any problem except a physical one from our monitoring centre."

The company plans to enable terminals to be able to notify players by mobile phone text message of changes in gaming tournaments - for example, should a player be knocked off a high score position by an opponent they can be notified and be invited to re-join the game.

Ward-Dutton said IBM, Microsoft and Sun are investing in research in the area but thought it was more likely we would see individual developments rather than a "wave".

"It is part of a trend where goods are intelligent and networked. IP is the basic enabler - providing a common networking protocol stack for broadband and cellular networks. It is, however, a long-term trend and is hampered more by economics - working out what people are able to and prepared to pay for - rather than technology.

"It is possible to put networked games on a microwave but who would want it? But if you can connect, for example, a central heating system to a manufacturer's diagnostic system that could be something people are prepared to pay for.

"We have already spoken to car manufacturers which plan to offer a remotely monitored vehicle diagnostic and breakdown service," said Ward-Dutton.

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