Commercial Mobile Spectrum Outlook

March 2013
Spectrum Management and Telecommunications

Posted on Industry Canada website: March 7, 2013


List of Acronyms

Australian Communications and Media Authority

Aeronautical Mobile Telemetry

Ancillary Terrestrial Component

Advanced Television Systems Committee

Advanced Wireless Service

Broadband Auxiliary Service

Broadband Radio Service

Compound Annual Growth Rate

Cable TV Relay Service

Code Division Multiple Access

European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations

Dynamic Frequency Selection

Dedicated Short-Range Communications

Digital Television

Electronic Communications Committee

Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution

Earth Exploration Satellite Service

Electronic News Gathering

Evolution Data Optimized

Federal Communications Commission

Frequency Division Duplex

Fixed Service

Fixed Wireless Access

Global Packet Radio Service

Global System for Mobile Communications

High-Density Fixed Service

High-Density Fixed Satellite Service

Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers

International Mobile Telecommunications

Internet Protocol

Industrial, Scientific and Medical

Intelligent Transport Systems

International Telecommunication Union

Radiocommunication Sector of International Telecommunication Union

Local Multipoint Communication Systems

Local Multipoint Distribution System

Low-Power Apparatus

Long-Term Evolution

Mobile Broadband Services

Multipoint Communication Systems

Multipoint Distribution Service

North American Mobile Satellite System

Mobile Satellite Service

Mobile Satellite Venture

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

National Television Systems Committee

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

Personal Communications Service

Public Switched Telephone Network

Radio Advisory Board of Canada

Radio Local Area Network

Remote Rural Broadband Service

Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service

Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada

Studio Transmitter Link

Time Division Duplex

Tracking and Data Relay Satellite

Tracking Telemetry and Command

Television White Spaces

Ultra-High Frequency

Very High Capacity Microwave

Wireless Broadband Service

Wireless Communication Services

World Radio Conference

Commercial Mobile Spectrum Outlook
Message from the Minister of Industry

Photo of the Minister of IndustryWith uncertainty continuing to weigh on the global economy, Canada has an opportunity to lead in creating a world‑class, competitive digital economy that attracts investment, creates jobs and builds a sustainable and prosperous society.

To achieve this vision, we need a modern communications infrastructure that makes efficient use of wireless technology. All wireless services rely on the availability of radio frequency spectrum — a finite resource used by a wide range of sectors across the Canadian economy.

As Minister of Industry, it is my responsibility to ensure that spectrum is managed fairly, and to the maximum benefit of all Canadians.

Mindful of the rapid growth in the use of mobile broadband services, our Government recognizes that sufficient and appropriate spectrum resources must be available to Canada’s wireless providers to ensure that Canadians continue to reap the benefits of technology as we strive to become one of the top digital economies in the world.

With this publication, the Government of Canada is opening a new dialogue with spectrum users, licence holders and other stakeholders. This document makes mention of consultations that will be held before we free up spectrum — we hope you will add your voice on how best to use this precious public resource.

The Honourable Christian Paradis
Minister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Executive Summary

The purpose of the Commercial Mobile Spectrum Outlook is to provide stakeholders with an overview of Industry Canada’s overall approach and planned activities to ensure appropriate spectrum resources are available to meet the demand for commercial mobile services over the next five years.

The rapid growth of commercial mobile services presents significant economic and social benefits for Canada. This growth is also increasing the amount of spectrum required to deliver these services in Canada. Various projections estimate that Canada will require at least 473 MHz and as much as 820 MHz of spectrum to be allocated to commercial mobile services by 2017. Based on these projections, Industry Canada has set an objective of allocating a total of 750 MHz of spectrum to commercial mobile services by the end of 2017.

Taking into account the already-announced auctions, Canada currently has plans in place to have a total of 528 MHz of spectrum available for commercial mobile services. This means that an additional 222 MHz of spectrum will have to be allocated to commercial mobile services over the next five years in order to meet this objective.

Taking into account action being taken by countries around the globe to identify additional spectrum for mobile, Industry Canada has identified 300-415 MHz of additional spectrum in the following bands that could potentially be allocated to commercial mobile services by 2017:

  • AWS 2   10 MHz
  • AWS 3   50 MHz
  • AWS 4   40 MHz
  • WCS  20 MHz
  • 600 MHz 80-120 MHz
  • 3500 MHz  100-175 MHz

Industry Canada will have separate and comprehensive consultations with industry stakeholders before making any specific decisions with respect to these bands. It is also recognized that not all of these spectrum bands will be available by 2017, and that the timing of specific decisions will be subject to international developments.

The rapid growth in commercial mobile services is also increasing demand for spectrum to support wireless backhaul services. Overall, Industry Canada believes that the 24 GHz of backhaul spectrum available is sufficient to support the growing wireless sector until 2017, although efforts will need to be made to find sufficient spectrum in mid-range frequency bands (11-23 GHz).

Wi-Fi is playing an increasingly important role in the wireless networks by offloading data traffic from cellular networks onto wired networks. It is estimated that by 2015, Wi-Fi networks will carry half of all Internet traffic. As a result, Industry Canada is taking steps to provide additional spectrum for licence-exempt equipment. Canada recently announced a decision to allow the use of TV white spaces, and is joining other countries in examining the potential of making additional spectrum available in the 5 GHz range for use by licence-exempt equipment.

Beyond 2017, mobile data traffic will undoubtedly continue to grow, likely resulting in additional spectrum requirements. It is conceivable that at least 1000 MHz of mobile broadband spectrum will be required by the start of the next decade. As a result, Industry Canada will continue to monitor developments, both in Canada and abroad, and will update this plan accordingly.

1. Introduction

The radio frequency spectrum is a unique, finite resource that is used in a broad range of applications. It is an integral component of Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure, and provides access to a range of private, commercial, consumer, defence, national security, scientific and public safety applications.

The Minister of Industry is responsible for managing the use of spectrum in Canada, in accordance with the provisions of the Radiocommunication Act.Footnote 1 As set out in the 2007 Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada,Footnote 2 Canada’s overall objective is to maximize the economic and social benefits that Canadians derive from spectrum use. Industry Canada is responsible for the allocation and assignment of spectrum resources to various services and applications, as well as the licensing of specific frequencies through radio or spectrum licences.

One of the principal challenges in managing spectrum is the fact that it is a limited resource that must support a continually growing and increasingly sophisticated range of applications. As a result, Industry Canada must continually monitor trends in spectrum usage and re-evaluate current spectrum allocations and assignments.

The biggest challenge for spectrum managers around the globe today is the rapid growth in demand for commercial mobile services. Commercial mobile services provide the general public with telephony, and increasingly, data and video applications. Growing consumer demand for greater geographic coverage, faster data rates and more sophisticated applications is driving a rapid increase in the spectrum requirements for commercial mobile services, as well as affecting the spectrum requirements for backhaul and for licence-exempt devices that use Wi-Fi technology for Internet access.

The purpose of the Commercial Mobile Spectrum Outlook is to provide stakeholders with an overview of Industry Canada’s overall approach and planned activities in order to ensure additional spectrum resources are available to help meet demand for commercial mobile services over the next five years. Part 2 provides an overview of Industry Canada’s policy approach, based on the 2007 Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada. Part 3 provides a review of expected future demand for spectrum to support commercial mobile services. Part 4 provides an assessment of potential spectrum bands that could be allocated and assigned to commercial mobile services and associated services over the next five years.

The Outlook is intended to reflect Industry Canada’s current direction and efforts to provide spectrum for commercial mobile services. As such, it may be updated from time to time in order to reflect changing priorities, significant technological changes or international developments. The Outlook will be updated following the auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz and 2500 MHz bands as well as after the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference is held.

The observations and conclusions expressed in the Outlook are based on the current situation in Canada and abroad, and are therefore subject to change. Stakeholders are welcome to provide feedback and comment on an ongoing basis; however, the Outlook is not intended to be a substitute for separate, comprehensive consultations with stakeholders on specific spectrum management issues. For a complete list of recent and ongoing public consultations, please refer to the Industry Canada website.Footnote 3

2. Industry Canada’s Policy Approach

2.1 Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada

Industry Canada maintains a number of official policy documents that provide guidance on the administration and implementation of the Radiocommunication Act.Footnote 4 Chief among these is the 2007 Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada (SPFC), which articulates the overall objective and underlying principles that the Minister of Industry relies upon in exercising his authorities under the Act.Footnote 5 The overall objective of the spectrum management program is "to maximize the economic and social benefits that Canadians derive from the use of the radio frequency spectrum resource." The Framework also sets out the following enabling guidelines for achieving this policy objective and for directing Industry Canada’s spectrum management activities:

  1. Market forces should be relied upon to the maximum extent feasible.
  2. Notwithstanding (a), spectrum should be made available for a range of services that are in the public interest.
  3. Spectrum should be made available to support Canadian sovereignty, security and public safety needs.
  4. Regulatory measures, where required, should be minimally intrusive, efficient and effective.
  5. Regulation should be open, transparent and reasoned, and developed through public consultation, where appropriate.
  6. Spectrum management practices, including licensing methods, should minimize administrative burden and be responsive to changing technology and marketplace demands.
  7. Canada’s spectrum resource interests should be actively advanced and defended internationally.
  8. Spectrum policy and management should support the efficient functioning of markets by:
    • permitting the flexible use of spectrum to the extent possible;
    • harmonizing spectrum use with international allocations and standards, except where Canadian interests warrant a different determination;
    • making spectrum available for use in a timely fashion;
    • facilitating secondary markets for spectrum authorizations;
    • clearly defining the obligations and privileges conveyed in spectrum authorizations;
    • ensuring that appropriate interference protection measures are in place;
    • reallocating spectrum where appropriate, while taking into account the impact on existing services; and
    • applying enforcement that is timely, effective and commensurate with the risks posed by non-compliance.

2.2 International Context

Canada, like most other countries, participates in the global coordination and harmonization of spectrum management through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The Radiocommunication Sector of the ITU (ITU-R) serves to facilitate the equitable, efficient and economic use of spectrum among all radiocommunication services. The ITU-R maintains the international Radio Regulations, which define the allocation of spectrum bands to various types of services on the basis of the International Table of Frequency Allocations. Additionally, the ITU-R specifies technical standards to be observed by radio stations, as well as procedures for international coordination, in order to ensure technical compatibility of radio systems between countries. The Radio Regulations are reviewed and amended at the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs), which are typically held every three to four years. The last WRC was held in 2012, and the next conference is scheduled for 2015.

Canada strongly supports the global harmonization and coordination of radio frequency allocations and technical standards through the ITU. Global harmonization and coordination contributes to greater certainty for radio equipment manufacturers, who can design and manufacture devices to meet the requirements of global-scale markets, rather than multiple devices to meet the divergent requirements of different jurisdictions. Larger markets lead to larger technology ecosystems, which result in greater economies of scale and more affordable equipment. The Canadian market alone is simply not large enough to attract manufacturers to build equipment for unique Canadian band plans. Consequently, Industry Canada will continue to use the ITU to promote international harmonization, particularly as spectrum managers from around the world work to identify spectrum that could be reallocated to meet the requirements of commercial mobile services at the next WRC in 2015.

Given Canada’s proximity to the United States, spectrum coordination within North America is most critical. Canada has entered into a number of treaties and arrangements with the United States to allow certain radiocommunication equipment that has been duly authorized in one country to operate in the other, thereby avoiding cross-border interference. Among other things, these arrangements for the Coordination and Use of Radio FrequenciesFootnote 6 specify:

  • Frequency bands for which new radio systems must be coordinated between the two countries;
  • Geographic areas (near the border) where coordination must occur for certain frequencies;
  • Notification and consultation procedures that must be followed between regulatory agencies for the two countries concerning new frequency assignments; and
  • Common specifications for use of radio systems in various frequency bands, including antenna height limits, maximum radiated power, etc.

For these reasons, it is critical that Industry Canada monitor and influence, to the extent possible, the spectrum management decisions in other major markets, particularly the United States.

2.3 Canadian Table of Frequency Allocations

The Canadian Table of Frequency Allocations establishes the frequency allocations available for radio services in Canada for frequencies between 9 kHz and 275 GHz. For the purpose of spectrum allocations, radio services are identified as primary and secondary services. Primary services have priority use of the frequencies allocated to them and have a right to claim protection from harmful interferences originating from other co-primary services through frequency coordination, as well as from secondary services at all times. Secondary services may also be permitted to use a particular band, but are prohibited from causing harmful interference to primary services.

The Canadian Table of Frequency Allocations is generally, though not entirely, consistent with the International Table of Frequency Allocations maintained by the ITU. Canada is committed to harmonizing spectrum use with international allocations and standards, except where Canadian interests warrant a different determination. In some cases, the Canadian Table reflects only a subset of services allocated in the International Table, reflecting the most desirable services in Canada.

In June 2011, Industry Canada published Radio Spectrum Inventory: A 2010 Snapshot — Canada,Footnote 7 which provides an overview of current spectrum allocations and assignments, within the range of 52 MHz to 38 GHz, among 12 different groups of services and applications: commercial mobile, fixed systems (backhaul and fixed wireless access), land mobile, amateur service, public safety, broadcasting, satellite services, space science services, aeronautical services and applications, marine mobile service, radiodetermination and licence-exempt devices. The report provides historical trends in assigned spectrum, an analysis of current spectrum usage and a comparison with spectrum use in the United States. Furthermore, the report provides a basis for ongoing evaluation of current spectrum allocations as the department aims to balance the spectrum needs of existing services with those of new or growing services.

2.4 Demand-side and Supply-side Management

Spectrum is a limited resource, and the "usable" spectrum range (given current technologies) is completely allocated to existing services. As a result, and within the policy context set-out above, Canada must rely on a combination of demand-side and supply-side measures in order to meet the spectrum needs of new or growing services.

Network Investments and Technological Developments to Improve Efficiency

On the demand-side, licensees must use existing spectrum allocations more efficiently in order to provide improved service without requiring additional spectrum resources. Greater spectrum use efficiency can be achieved by optimizing infrastructure deployment (for example, increasing network density in order to increase frequency reuse) or by adopting innovative technologies (such as 4G wireless mobile broadband technologies).

Industry Canada has an important role to play in facilitating spectrum use efficiency, notably through the identification of contiguous and larger bandwidth allocations, through the market-based pricing of spectrum resources, through supporting innovative research and development into new techniques to improve spectrum efficiency and by supporting competition in the wireless sector. However, primary responsibility to improve spectrum use efficiency rests with licensees themselves, especially in their ability to make appropriate and continual investments in network infrastructure and to utilize new technologies that improve the efficiency of spectrum use.

Canadian commercial mobile service providers have improved spectrum use efficiency by investing over $13 billion in their wireless networks between 2003 and 2010 (Figure 1). This amount does not include the $4.25 billion spent to acquire new commercial mobile spectrum in the 2008 AWS auction, nor investments that were made to expand wireline infrastructure. Instead, these investments have gone toward expanding network coverage and density (for example, by adding additional cell sites) as well as toward upgrading technology and network applications (for example, the deployment of 4G technologies). As well, major gains in spectral efficiency have been achieved as providers move from older technologies, such as Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), to newer ones, such as High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and Long Term Evolution (LTE) (Table 1).

In order to meet future demands for spectrum, key determinants include continued capital investment as well as the development of additional technological and business innovations designed to significantly increase spectrum use efficiency. It is therefore critical that Canada’s wireless providers be encouraged to actively pursue innovations such as dynamic spectrum sharing and cognitive radio, small cell networks, smart antennas and others that have the potential to improve spectrum use efficiency.

Supply-side Management

While the private sector must lead the way in making better, more efficient use of spectrum, Industry Canada recognizes that efficiency improvements alone cannot meet the growing demand for commercial mobile services, and that in order to meet the objective of the SPFC, it has an obligation to manage the supply of spectrum by reallocating limited spectrum resources between radio services. Such reallocation decisions need to consider not only the requirements of commercial mobile services, but also those of associated services, such as fixed systems that provide backhaul capacity or licence-exempt devices, which allow for the offloading of traffic from commercial mobile networks.

When determining the need for spectrum reallocations, Industry Canada will be guided by the SPFC and will endeavour to make decisions in a timely and transparent manner after consultation with stakeholders. In addition to considering stakeholders’ views, Industry Canada’s approach to determine whether and how to reallocate spectrum is based on two main considerations. The first consideration is the expected additional demand for spectrum presented by the new or growing service, taking into account the potential to increase spectrum use efficiency through the application of best available technologies. The second consideration is an assessment of candidate bands, based on a combination of the following three factors: (1) the current use of the band in Canada; (2) projected technological developments and the expected availability of equipment able to use the reallocated bands in order to deliver the new or growing service (often referred to as a "technology ecosystem"); and (3) international trends and whether the new use of the band is compatible with Canada’s international obligations (also known as international frequency coordination).

The next part of the Outlook (Part 3, "Demand for Spectrum to Support Commercial Mobile Services") provides a summary of Industry Canada’s current analysis of the future expected demand for spectrum in the mobile communications category, given existing trends in network investments and technological improvements to improve efficiency. Part 3 also includes a summary of the impacts that growing commercial mobile services are expected to have on the spectrum requirements for backhaul services and for licence-exempt devices, which are used to offload mobile traffic onto wired networks.

Based on this analysis of the expected future demand for spectrum from these services and applications, Part 4 of the Outlook ("Additional Spectrum to Support Commercial Mobile Services") details Industry Canada’s current assessment of candidate bands that could be reallocated to meet future requirements.

Figure 1: Capital Expenditures by Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Service Providers
Figure 1: Capital Expenditures by Canadian Wireless
  Telecommunications Service Providers [Description of Figure 1]

Note: This does not include investments to acquire spectrum licences in 2008.

Source: Based on CRTC Communications Monitoring Report, various years.

Table 1: Estimated Spectral Efficiency of Various Wireless TechnologiesFootnote 8
Mobile Generation Technology Efficiency (Bits/S/Hz)

Source: RedMobile: Study of Future Demand for Radio Spectrum in Canada, 2011-2015.

2G-GSM — GPRS 0.085
2.5G CDMA 0.29
3G EV-DO 0.68
3.5G HSPA 0.68
4G LTE 1.3
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