Considering the recent announcement that Sega is shifting it's strategy to focus more on internet gaming through their newly formed "Sega.com" company, it is no surprise that Sony has changed some of its plans to try and capture part of the online market as soon as they can. However, unlike the Sega Dreamcast, the PlayStation 2 does not come with a modem built in, so until an external modem is released on the market, Sony will be on the sidelines of the internet race. Sony has been reported to have been working on both a phone modem and a broadband modem, and also a hard drive to accomodate the modems, but reports were that they would not be ready until next year.
Sony, though, has decided that the sidelines aren't very appealing, and luckily North America does not look like it will have to be on the sidelines at all.
An article in Bloomberg has stated that the PlayStation 2 hard drive and modem will be available in North America at the system's launch. One can only assume Bloomberg is referring to the phone modem, as the broadband market is still rather small, although growing very rapidly. With the launch of Sega's service being in the same time period as the North American launch of PlayStation 2, fans can expect Sony to flash around some of the games that Sega will not be carrying, such as the online-only Final Fantasy XI, due out late next year worldwide. The release of the modem and hard drive at launch will help Sony by giving console players an alternative to Sega's service, which should at least make some Dreamcast owners reconsider how much of a commitment they will want to make to Sega's service even though it sounds very appealing now.
Sony will show off the modem and hard drive at the upcoming E3 trade even this next month in Los Angeles, and they will most likely demonstrate some of the new possibilities that developers and players will have with the combination of a hard drive and a modem that will bring the PC gaming and console gaming worlds even closer together. Until then, one can only speculate.