Do 3G Handheld Game Consoles Have a Shot?

In theory, a handheld gaming device with 3G connectivity seems like a great idea, which is probably why Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo is pitching the concept to console makers. In practice, it's a stretch.

NTT DoCoMo won't say which companies are part of the conversation, but Nintendo and Sony seem like obvious participants. Maybe Microsoft or some lesser-known party is involved. In any case, NTT DoCoMo hopes game console makers will embed 3G capabilities in their devices, or at least offer Mi-Fi-like routers to create local wireless connections, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The report mentions how Amazon struck a deal (with Sprint, and then AT&T) to build data coverage into e-reader price tags, yet I'm surprised that neither NTT DoCoMo nor the story itself mention how much more data a 3G game console would require. An e-book contains text. A downloadable game contains audio and video as well. Online, multiplayer gaming would be demanding. My knowledge of the wireless market in Japan is slim to none, but in the United States, no carrier would agree to serve 3G coverage to game consoles without a monthly charge or a huge up-front price.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Therein lies the dilemma for future game consoles. As gaming becomes more popular on multi-purpose devices -- not just phones, but 3G-enabled tablets -- dedicated consoles will look outdated without constant online connectivity. Still, it'll be tough for people to justify another monthly bill just for portable gaming.

For the sake of not being a total naysayer, here's one way out: I'm dreaming of a day when you can buy a whole mess of data and apply it to a range of devices, from phones to tablets to -- yup -- game consoles. Carriers are still stuck on a per-device mentality, but maybe that'll change as they move away from unlimited data. If that happens, I really do hope handheld game devices can be part of the shift.

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