Bell Canada and Telus both will switch to the new HSDPA technology as early as January of 2009. HSDPA is basically the most advanced form of GSM Technology:
High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) is a 3G (third generation) mobile telephony communications protocol in the High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) family, which allows networks based on Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) to have higher data transfer speeds and capacity. Current HSDPA deployments support down-link speeds of 1.8, 3.6, 7.2 and 14.4 Mbit/s. Further speed increases are available with HSPA+, which provides speeds of up to 42 Mbit/s downlink.
The move means that the two companies' ancient CDMA and TDMA technologies will be left by the wayside. GSM is the most popular worldwide tech for mobile communications (we stopped calling it "cellular", as these phones no longer operate on the dated "cellular" technology), with full saturation in Asia, Europe, and South America. Bell and Telus were unable to provide the "coolest" and latest phones with their older, North American technology. GSM - mainly developed by Nokia and Ericcson - is the world dominant technology (similar to DVD over DIVX).
Bell/Solo and Telus/Koodo will still maintain their older CDMA networks for the millions of users with their current phones. The HSDPA phones will have SIM cards like all GSM phones, so I will be able to continue getting my phones from Hong Kong or India (much higher end phones over there), and put in my local SIM. I'll just have more providers to choose from.
The move is good for consumers, however, I don't think Bell can afford to overhaul their entire network right now, while the economy tanks, and they were unsuccessful at being sold. Maybe there's a Conservative bailout of their media friends which we haven't heard about yet?
I've been a GSM-fan-boy for years. I despised the "locked" phones sold by the providers here, and would always buy unlocked GSM phones then adding my Fido/Rogers SIM. They try to tell you that all the "features" won't work, but there are "hacks" online that can get all your features going just fine. My current SIM model is a Sony "Cybershot" c702 with 3.2MP camera, GSM, and sports "location" services, as well as a radio, full walkman, and other neat stuff. It's also a tiny, thin candy-bar format.