Radio Spectrum Inventory: A 2010 Snapshot — Canada

Executive Summary


The radio frequency spectrum is a limited and shared resource, and therefore needs to be managed effectively and efficiently. Dependence on radiocommunication services in everyone's daily life has grown dramatically in recent years. The radio frequency spectrum is used extensively, not only for communication, but also in support of transportation, defence, public safety, weather prediction, agriculture and many other fields. The growth in the number and variety of applications, along with ever-increasing user expectations, places an increasing demand on the radio frequency spectrum.

Industry Canada (IC) is responsible for the management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbital resources; access to these resources is provided through authorization.

Given that radio frequency emissions are not intrinsically bound by geopolitical boundaries, spectrum must also be effectively coordinated on a global scale. In this context, Canada participates in various international governmental organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), where the treaty binding ITU Radio Regulations (RR) are developed and updated. The RR provide a basis for the Canadian Table of Frequency Allocations (CTFA), which establishes the frequency allocations available for radio services in Canada.

In order to support the technical and strategic planning functions of IC, a study of current spectrum allocations and assignments in Canada has been undertaken in the range of 52 MHz to 38 GHz. This study is based on twelve (12) different services and applications, which are intended to capture all the radio services listed in the CTFA and a number of key applications. For the purpose of this study, the following services and applications have been considered: commercial mobile, fixed, land mobile, amateur, public safety, broadcasting, satellite, space science, aeronautical, maritime, radiodetermination and licence-exempt devices.

Information on the services and applications are divided into separate chapters, with each chapter providing historical trends in assigned spectrum, background analysis of the current spectrum usage, Footnote 1 and comparisons with spectrum use in the United States.

The data on assigned spectrum was gathered from IC's databases, extracted during the summer of 2010. Public information has also been gathered for some services and certain applications, such as licence-exempt and commercial mobile, to complement the analysis. It is important to note that the information available in the databases varies, depending on the service or application. Consequently, the numbers of frequency assignments provided in this study are estimates in some instances.

In essence, this study provides a snapshot of the frequencies assigned in Canada as of August 2010.

Commercial Mobile

The commercial mobile service has evolved from simple 1G mobile voice telephony in the 1980s to complex 4G technology supporting voice and data transmissions in the high mobility environment of the 21st century. In response to increasing consumer demand for extended reach, faster data rates and more advanced applications, high capacity, extensive coverage and scalable commercial radio networks were deployed based on complex network architectures and state-of-the-art technologies.

As a result of the tremendous success and popularity of the cellular service, more bands have been allocated to this service, and now include the following:

  • Cellular: 824-849 MHz/869-894 MHz
  • Personal Communications Services (PCS): 1850-1915 MHz/1930–1995 MHz
  • Advanced Wireless Services (AWS): 1710-1755 MHz/2110-2155 MHz
  • Broadband Radio Services (BRS): 2500-2690 MHz
  • Mobile Broadband Service (MBS): 698-764 MHz/776-794 MHz
  • 1670-1675 MHz

Commercial mobile service providers are granted spectrum licences, as opposed to radio licences, which allow them to provide coverage over a specific geographic area. In Canada, these geographic areas are defined by service areas, also known as tier sizes. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has similar service areas associated with spectrum licences. Furthermore, the FCC has allocated and licensed the same frequency bands as listed above (but with slight modifications) to U.S. service providers, and deployment in these bands is currently in progress.

Virtually all of the spectrum in the Cellular, PCS, and AWS bands (that is, 270 MHz in total) has been licensed to various service providers, including the three major national carriers (Rogers, Bell, and TELUS), two large regional operators (MTS Allstream and SaskTel), and new regional operators (Videotron, Shaw, Eastlink) and new entrants (Globalive, Mobilicity and Public Mobile, amongst others). Small amounts of spectrum in the PCS and 1670-1675 MHz bands were not assigned in the initial auction and are available for licensing on a first-come, first-served basis in service areas with lower population densities.

Portions of both the MBS and BRS bands are planned for auction in 2012–2013. Up to 84 MHz of the MBS band will be available for deployment in the coming years. In the BRS band, at least 60 MHz will be available for auction across Canada.

In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, commercial mobile services have 539 MHz of primary allocated spectrum. This figure includes the maximum amount of spectrum to be auctioned in the 700 MHz and 2500 MHz bands.

Fixed Systems (Backhaul and Fixed Wireless Access)

Fixed services in Canada can be categorized into two types of systems: backhaul or point-to-point systems; and fixed wireless access (FWA) systems or point-to-multi-point systems.

Backhaul spectrum in Canada is categorized into two areas: unidirectional and two-way data communication. Applications for backhaul range from broadcasting auxiliary services to the aggregation of telephone and Internet traffic over long distances. Two-way data applications tend to be deployed in rural areas, where the distances required or terrain makes fibre impractical. Backhaul is typically licensed on a first come, first-served (FCFS), site-by-site basis. Regulations for the majority of backhaul services are broadly harmonized between Canada and the United States. However, there are some backhaul bands which are not harmonized.

Major uses of backhaul spectrum include the unidirectional data links for those in the broadcasting industry, including television and audio broadcasting, as well as cable television distribution. Two-way data communication users include cellular, telephone and Internet service providers (ISPs), electrical power utilities, banks, forestry/mining/oil and gas companies, pipelines, railways and other businesses, municipal governments, as well as other federal government departments (e.g. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Department of National Defence).

FWA systems support a variety of applications, including broadband Internet, advanced meter systems and rural telephone services. FWA systems are sometimes deployed in bands shared with other radiocommunication services or fixed service applications. Some systems are site licensed, but systems providing broadband Internet are generally spectrum licensed in a geographic area through a competitive process (i.e. auction) or on an FCFS basis.

Major users of FWA spectrum include communication, cellular, telephone and ISPs, as well as electrical power utilities and a variety of industrial users.

In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, the fixed (point-to-point and point-to-multipoint) service has 10.82 GHz of primary allocated spectrum. Backhaul allocations have been migrating towards higher frequency bands, partly due to increased interest for lower frequency bands for other services, such as commercial mobile. Some frequency bands (1800-1830 MHz, 3475-3650 MHz, 3650-3700 MHz, 2305-2320 MHz) allocated to the fixed service for FWA have been useful in serving remote communities and supporting electricity management applications.

Land Mobile

Land mobile systems are generally used to provide push-to-talk voice communications and low speed data to users. The land mobile bands are site-licensed on an FCFS basis. These bands are available to all users, except for the bands that are designated specifically for public safety. Land mobile systems are used by public safety, all levels of government, commercial entities (e.g. taxi and delivery companies) and commercial communications providers. In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, 146.225 MHz of primary allocated spectrum is available for land mobile systems.

In general, the Canadian land mobile bands align with the U.S. land mobile bands. Although the bands themselves are aligned, some of the ways that the bands are used may not align with the US. In some cases there are different users, different channelling plans, different duplexing schemes and different technical criteria for these bands in Canada and the United States.

Although there are several land mobile bands, Chapter 3 of this study focuses on the VHF band (138-144 MHz and 148-174 MHz), the UHF band (406.1-430 MHz and 450-470 MHz), the 800 MHz band (806-824 MHz and 851-869 MHz) and the 900 MHz band (several bands in the 869-941 MHz range).

The VHF, UHF and 800 MHz bands are heavily used. The VHF and UHF bands are used across Canada, particularly in rural areas, whereas the 800 MHz band is heavily used in major metropolitan areas. In comparison, there is 15 MHz of spectrum in the 900 MHz band that is not very heavily used.

Amateur Service

The amateur service is used by individuals to provide training, communication between amateur stations, disaster relief communications and technical investigations in radio techniques. Amateur stations generally do not have assigned frequencies but dynamically select frequencies within a band allocated to the amateur service using a listen-before-talk protocol. Amateur station operators require an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate. With this certificate, an amateur operator may operate within the amateur service frequency bands in accordance with the operator's qualifications identified for the specified band.

There are many bands allocated to the amateur service and many are on a shared basis. In general, the amateur service bands are aligned with the United States, and most are also aligned internationally.

There are currently 60,173 amateur radio operator certificates issued across Canada. Over the last 10 years, the total number of amateur certificates has almost doubled, but the number of new amateur certificates awarded annually has decreased by 50% in recent years.

In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, the amateur service has 59 MHz of primary allocated spectrum and 20.183 GHz of secondary allocated spectrum.

Public Safety

The Department defines the term "public safety" as services or applications related to the preservation of life and protection of property. The public safety community uses spectrum to communicate on a day-to-day basis, in emergency situations and for disaster relief. Land mobile systems are used by public safety entities to provide critical communications between first responders, within groups, and between command centers and first responders. It is expected that broadband mobile applications will be used by public safety entities to provide information that will improve situational awareness and increase response time, such as, pictures, blueprints, real-time video feeds, fast records transfer, etc.

Public safety systems can be found in many frequency bands. The primary bands used by public safety are the land mobile bands (e.g. VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands) and the bands designated specifically for public safety use (e.g. 768-776 MHz, 798-806 MHz and 4940-4990 MHz).

As with the land mobile bands, in general the Canadian public safety bands align with the US. Although the public safety bands themselves are aligned, some of the ways that in which the bands are used may not align with the United States. Additionally, the United States has some public safety pools in the VHF and UHF bands which, in Canada, are not limited to public safety use.

Given that most of the bands designated solely for public safety are fairly new and licensing has only recently begun, this study focuses on the portion of the 800 MHz band that is designated for public safety, 821-824 MHz and 866-869 MHz. The 800 MHz public safety band has been in use since the mid 1990s. Use of this band has doubled since 1998 and the band is at the point that there are very few channels available in metropolitan areas.

In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, 80.15 MHz has been designated for public safety. Public safety is also a major user of all land mobile bands.

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Broadcasting is defined in the Radiocommunication Act as "any radiocommunication in which transmissions are intended for direct reception by the general public."

The frequency bands allocated for broadcasting services in Canada are as follows:

  • For AM radio-services, the band from 525 to 1705 kHz

    There is currently little interest in establishing new AM stations. Although AM stations can cover a large area, the cost of building AM facilities is relatively high and the sound quality is inferior to alternatives such as FM. There is currently a clear tendency by AM radio operators to migrate to the FM band and abandon their AM channel. Introduction of some form of digital audio technology may revive the band, but there are challenges including lack of digital receivers and night-time skywave interference issues related to some digital radio standards.

  • For FM radio-services, the band from 88 to 108 MHz

    The FM frequency band is extremely congested in most major markets with no spare capacity available for new stations. FM radio is popular due to the audio quality and the ease of implementation. To relieve the congestion in this band, the United States has introduced HD Radio, "In-Band On-Channel (IBOC)", which is a hybrid method of transmitting digital radio and analog radio broadcast signals simultaneously on the same frequency. The technology has a few minor limitations, but it allows the introduction of numerous new digital radio services without necessitating additional spectrum. HD Radio receivers are increasingly available on the market. The Department allows HD Radio technology to be implemented on a developmental basis.

  • For TV, the bands of 54 to 72 MHz, 76 to 88 MHz, 174 to 216 MHz and 470 to 806 MHz

    Digital conversion is underway in the CRTC's mandatory markets and elsewhere in the country. When the transition is completed, the Department will be able to reallocate the 700 MHz (698-806 MHz) band to new wireless services. The current television business model is based on serving fixed locations with HDTV quality content. This business model may change as mobile TV receivers become available in cars, tablets, mobile phones and laptops.

    In the frequency range from 512 MHz to 698 MHz, Rural and Remote Broadband Services (RRBS) may be able to share the spectrum in certain areas where there are few TV assignments and allotments. As mentioned above, the frequency range from 698-806 MHz will be re-allocated to public safety services and to new wireless services. As technology advances, providers of other services may be able to take advantage of the low geographical density of broadcasting stations and share spectrum in certain areas.

  • For Digital Radio Broadcasting (DRB), the band from 1452 to 1492 MHz, also called, the L-Band.

    The DRB service was expected to replace the AM and FM radio services that have filled Canadian airwaves since the 1930s. Digital radio provides CD-like sound quality, but listeners need to acquire new receivers designed specifically for the type of DRB technology and frequency band.

    There were about 70 stations on-air in Canada at its peak in the late 1990s. Currently, there are very few still in operation. The demise is essentially attributed to the lack of receivers and new content. The Department is currently reviewing its policy on the usage of the band.

    In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, the broadcasting service has 462 MHz of spectrum, allocated on a primary basis.

Satellite Services

Satellite services include FSS, BSS and MSS. Common users of fixed-satellite services (FSS) are the natural resources sector and rural and northern communities. Broadcasting-satellite services (BSS) have good penetration in both rural and urban areas of Canada and serve a wide range of urban and rural residents.

Studies conducted for the purpose of this report were undertaken by analyzing database information. It was also necessary to obtain additional information on spectrum and radio licences to supplement the Department's licensing database analysis due to the licence-exempt nature of some satellite receivers and the fact that spectrum licences, often awarded for mobile satellite services (MSS), are not recorded in the database.

Studies conducted on the major bands used by FSS, BSS and MSS show consistent growth of satellite services, from 1998 to 2010. In particular, more heavily used FSS bands showed the greatest growth. The number of licensed frequencies in the Ku-Band (11-15 GHz) outpaces that of the C-Band (3-7 GHz) and Ka-Band (18-31 GHz). The reason being the Ku-Band has characteristics that make it more attractive to both operators and consumers. However, there is now saturation in the Ku-Band and operators have begun to deploy and plan new satellites in the extended Ku-Band and Ka-Band. New innovations are being developed to overcome challenges, such as higher susceptibility to rain fading, inherent to this band.

There has been constant growth in BSS. A steady increase in the number of licensed frequencies in this band has compounded into a growth of 757% since 2000. In the 17 GHz BSS Band, seven satellites have approvals in principle to launch Canada's first 17 GHz BSS satellites. In the 12 GHz BSS band, there are recent and planned satellite deployments.

There are two licensed Canadian MSS satellites (one at L-Band (1-2 GHz) and one at S-Band (2-4 GHz)). Analysis of public information shows that the L-Band has the greatest number of spectrum licences (12 approved, 2 approved in principle). The Big LEO (low earth orbit) Band has two operators that use 91% of the band. In the S-Band, there is a single operator using 25% of the band. While the S-Band is currently shared with fixed and mobile terrestrial services, MSS has priority. In the United States, the S-Band is solely allocated to MSS; however, a new proposed rule change recommends amending the allocation to include fixed and mobile terrestrial services. Other rule changes in the United States recommend policies that would see terrestrial deployments in all MSS bands.

In the 52 MHz to 38 GHz range, there is approximately 20 GHz of spectrum allocated to the satellite service on a primary basis, 15 275 MHz of spectrum for FSS, 1590 MHz of spectrum for BSS, and 3161.15 MHz of spectrum for MSS.

Space Sciences Services (EESS, SRS, MetSat, SOS, MetAids, RAS)

The term "space science services" is defined in the context of this study as satellite services (including airborne/ground-based platform and balloon) use for the purpose of science. It also encompasses the radio astronomy service, whose main purpose is to "listen" to space. The services that are mentioned in Chapter 8 are: Earth Exploration Satellite Service (EESS), Space Research Service (SRS), Meteorological Satellite (MetSat) Service, Space Operation service (SOS), Meteorological Aids (MetAids) and Radio Astronomy Service (RAS).

Satellites provide the most cost-efficient way to monitor the environment of the entire Earth, including land, sea and air. Unique capabilities of EESS satellites include observing wide areas non-intrusively and uniformly (by using the same instrument) with the ability to rapidly target any point on Earth, including remote locations, and to continue with a series of observations over a long period of time. Through these capabilities, the EESS brings many benefits to society in both the public and commercial sectors. Information about climate change, weather, precipitation, pollution or natural disasters is a critically important for the global community.

The following is the percentage of spectrum allocated to each service in the Space Science category on a primary basis in the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz:

Percentage of spectrum
Space Science Service Total Spectrum (MHz)
Radio Astronomy 1461.7
Meteorological Satellite 583.85
Meteorological Aids 837.45
Space Operation 281.4
Space Research 8787.25
Earth Exploration Satellite 6964
Total 18915.65

In general, frequency allocated to the radio astronomy service may be reused by other services except for the area where the radio astronomy station is located. It is noted that SRS and EESS allocations are often shared.

Aeronautical Services and Applications

Aeronautical allocations are international in nature. The associated regulatory requirements are generally established by International bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), due to the global nature of the various aeronautical applications. These are then applied at the domestic level in order to ensure the safety of flight of all aircraft. Canada is bound by a treaty (the Chicago Convention) to designate certain radio frequencies for use by aeronautical services.

The majority of the aeronautical bands are part of air navigation and air traffic management systems. Multiple bands are used simultaneously during a flight (i.e. from take-off to landing and taxiing at the airport). It is therefore necessary to consider the relationship between aeronautical bands when evaluating their utilization.

From a utilization perspective, all bands associated with the National Air Navigation system and the Air traffic control systems (108-117.975 MHz, 117.975-137 MHz, 328.6-335.4 MHz, 960-1164 MHz) are heavily used in Canada.

The band 5000-5150 MHz is currently only lightly used domestically. However, this band has been identified internationally for new aeronautical applications (e.g. airport surface applications and telemetry for testing new aircraft).

In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, the aeronautical radionavigation service has approximately 2156 MHz of allocated spectrum and the aeronautical mobile service has 373 MHz of allocated spectrum.

Maritime Mobile Service

Maritime Mobile Service (MMS) is different in comparison to some other types of services in that there are no competing users within this service. The primary purpose for the use of frequency spectrum for MMS is safety of life. Today, most of the MMS uses analogue technologies. However, with the emergence of new digital technologies, discussions within the ITU, as well as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA), indicate that the maritime community would benefit from the switch from analogue technologies to digital technologies. The revision of frequencies and channeling arrangements for HF frequency bands, outlined in Appendix 17 of the International Radio Regulations, has begun. This revision aims to allow the implementation of new digital technologies in the maritime mobile service.

In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, the maritime service has 884 MHz of allocated spectrum on a primary basis.


The radiodetermination service includes the radionavigation service and the radiolocation service. Many systems operating under these services, such as weather radar networks and radar used for navigation of ships and aircraft are critical to safety of life and property. Different frequency ranges are necessary for the radiolocation service to satisfy different requirements. Existing allocations for the radionavigation and radiolocation services are not congested. However, new allocations are sometimes necessary to satisfy increased bandwidth needs and new operational requirements such as the need for additional data from oceanographic radiolocation systems to help respond to natural disasters such as tsunamis, understand climate change, and ensure safe maritime travel.

In the frequency range from 52 MHz to 38 GHz, the radionavigation service has 3210 MHz of allocated spectrum and the radiolocation service has 8671 MHz of allocated spectrum. Some frequency bands (2300-2500 MHz, 24050-24250 MHz) allocated to the radiolocation service have been repurposed in the past 10 years to accommodate other services. As technology advances, other services may be able to take advantage of the geographical concentrations of radiolocation systems and share spectrum in certain areas.

Licence-Exempt Devices

Consumers and businesses appreciate the convenience and low cost of licence-exempt radio devices and this represents a significant benefit to Canadians. In accordance with the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication Regulations, users of licence-exempt radio devices are exempted only from the requirement to obtain a radio licence. However, these radio devices must still comply with all other relevant regulatory requirements, including equipment standards. Unlike licensed radio systems that are afforded some protection by obtaining a licence, licence-exempt radio devices must operate on a strict no-interference, no-protection basis in relation to other radio systems. Accordingly, licence-exempt radio devices are not permitted to cause interference to licensed radio systems and users are not permitted to claim protection from potential interference.

Licence-exempt devices can be categorized in terms of industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) devices and consumer devices; the main difference between the two is that ISM devices are used within the industrial, scientific and medical community (e.g. industrial heaters, thermal sealers) and consumer devices are used by the general public in a residential environment (e.g. Wi-Fi, cordless phones, garage door openers, etc.).

The number of licence-exempt (LE) consumer radio apparatus used in Canada can only be estimated based on the number of models certified in Canada. Assuming that a typical occupied dwelling in Canada could have up to 20 LE apparatus, and based on the 2006 census data of 12,435,520 dwellings, up to 250 million consumer devices could be in circulation. The number of consumer devices per dwelling is steadily increasing.


  1. 1 back to footnote reference 1 In this study, spectrum usage refers to frequency authorizations and does not consider efficiency of use.
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