Walking through the countryside today I reflected on current EDGE and UMTS deployments and what to expect in the future if you are living outside of towns or cities. While UMTS just made a big jump from 384 kbit/s to 1.8 or 3.6 MBit/s with HSDPA, EDGE is pretty much the last push GSM/GPRS networks will see in terms bandwidth. Sure, standardization work is ongoing for multicarrier EDGE which might once again one day increase througput in old GPRS/EDGE/EDGE+(?) networks. But the increase will be quite modest compared to HSDPA and future 4G technology. It will come to late.
On the other hand it's quite clear that bandwidth requirements even of "ordinary" users is increasing quickly. EDGE's 200 kbit/s is still quite o.k. today for many things but I wonder if this will still be the case in, say, 3 or 4 years from now. Probably not with websites increasing their graphics and video content from month to month. It would be nice to see UMTS/HSDPA deployed even in remote areas by then but I wouldn't count on it. WiMAX might be deployed in such regions but the big question is of whether travellers will be able to use such networks which will be potentially local in nature for a fair price?
But then, maybe I shouldn't give up on nationwide 3G coverage as GSM licenses will run out in 2012 in many countires. That's only 6 years away from now. By then, most mobiles will be 2G/3G dual mode. So maybe we'll see some GSM network replacement with UMTS for the simple reason that there is no price difference for replacing and aging GSM BTS with a new GSM BTS or a new UMTS BTS. UMTS in the 900 MHz band would surely help in rural areas. Let's hope regulators and operators in Europe and elsewhere get the idea.