The Xbox Live network launched in the UK on March 14th 2003 after several months of open consumer testing and very sucessful launches in Japan and the USA. To connect your Xbox to the service you need to have a broadband internet connection, and the Xbox Live Starter Kit (which retails for £39.99) - there's no requirement to upgrade your console, as the adapter is already built in to the machine.
Xbox Live's Starter Kit comes with 12 months subscription to the service, along with the Xbox Communicator headset, and two demo games to give you an idea of what online gaming via Xbox Live is like.
When you sign up for the service you get to pick your Gamertag, which let's you have your own identity and stays the same through all of the games you play, meaning your name can become known by other gamers, and appear on high-score tables for all to see.
Using the Gamertags, you can make sure you're always able to find your friends on Xbox Live by adding them to your Friends List and either inviting them to games you are in, or joining them in the game they're already playing.
Downloadable content is another feature which should prove popular, and includes add-ons for existing games, ranging from new characters and weapons, to complete new levels of games. Content is stored on the Xbox's hard drive, which means once it's downloaded you get to keep it for ever.
The first game to receive the extra content treatment in the UK will be Ubi Soft's Splinter Cell, which has a full level called Kola Cell available for download from the Live gaming servers.