Radio Spectrum Inventory: A 2010 Snapshot — Canada

Chapter 1 – Commercial Mobile

1.3 Spectrum Inventory and Analysis

1.3.1 Major Users

For the purpose of this study, the Cellular, PCS and AWS bands were investigated. The Cellular and PCS bands have been extensively deployed and deployments in the AWS band have recently begun. Given that the 700 MHz and BRS bands are still in developmental stages and deployments are not yet under way in these bands, preliminary information (prior to auctioning) regarding this band is provided below.

Tables 1.3 to 1.5 show spectrum holdings for service providers in Canada's three largest markets, Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal. In the BRS band, Rogers and Bell have formed a partnership, known as Inukshuk, and hold a large percentage of the BRS spectrum in Canada.

Table 1.3: Spectrum Holdings by Band: Toronto
Organization Cellular (MHz) PCS (MHz) AWS (MHz) BRS (MHz)
Rogers 25 50 20 120
Bell 25 30 20
TELUS 0 40 10 0
Globalive 0 0 20 0
Videotron 0 0 10 0
Mobilicity 0 0 10 0
Public Mobile 0 10 0 0
Industry Canada 0 0 0 60
Total Spectrum Available 50 130 90 180
Table 1.4: Spectrum Holdings by Band: Vancouver
Organization Cellular (MHz) PCS (MHz) AWS (MHz) BRS (MHz)
Rogers 25 60 20 120
Bell 0 40 10
TELUS 25 20 20 0
Globalive 0 0 10 0
Shaw 0 0 20 0
Mobilicity 0 0 10 0
Novus Wireless 0 10 0 0
Industry Canada 0 0 0 60
Total Spectrum Available 50 130 90 180
Table 1.5: Spectrum Holdings by Band: Montréal
Organization Cellular (MHz) PCS (MHz) AWS (MHz) BRS (MHz)
Rogers 25 60 20 120
Bell 25 20 10
TELUS 0 40 20 0
Globalive 0 0 0 0
Videotron 0 0 40 0
Mobilicity 0 0 0 0
Public Mobile 0 10 0 0
Industry Canada 0 0 0 60
Total Spectrum Available 50 130 90 180

Similar spectrum holding patterns are present in other large markets in Canada. The largest service providers in all major market areas tend to be Rogers, Bell and TELUS. Nevertheless, smaller service providers hold licences in specific bands and/or market areas. Videotron, for example, holds several PCS licences in Canada's six most densely populated markets across Canada (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and Montréal).

The chart in Figure 1.3 illustrates the total spectrum holdings of various service providers in Cellular, PCS and AWS bands. For any given market, a total of 270 MHz of paired spectrum is available (that is, 50 MHz of Cellular, 130 MHz of PCS and 90 MHz of AWS spectrum). It should be noted that Bell does not have any spectrum holdings in Manitoba or Saskatchewan. SaskTel and MTS have significant spectrum holdings across the Cellular, PCS, and AWS bands in Saskatchewan and Manitoba respectively.

Figure 1.3 – The amount of spectrum (in the Cellular, AWS bands) licensed per service provider in Canada's nine largest cities
Figure 1.3 – The amount of spectrum (in the Cellular, Personal Communications Service and Advanced Wireless Services bands) licensed per service provider in Canada's nine largest cities [Description of Figure 1.3]

The major Canadian markets account for a large percentage of the population, but a small percentage of geographical area. In many cases, there exist smaller service providers that target specific markets. For example, Mobilicity can potentially service 50% of the Canadian population because it holds spectrum licences for several Tier 3 service areas (mainly in the Greater Toronto Area) in densely populated areas across Canada and particularly in southern Ontario. On the other hand, EastLink's licences cover larger service areas in rural Atlantic Canada (approximately three times more geographical area than that of Mobilicity); however, these service areas account for only 16% of the Canadian population.

Table 1.6 gives a breakdown of the service providers based on the territory and population covered by their spectrum licences. The population and area columns show how much coverage potential each service provider has. However, this does not necessarily mean that the service provides service to the entire geographic area of its licence.

Table 1.6: Geographical area and population covered by licences of the major service providers in Canada
Company Licence Coverage Area (All bands) Population within licensed area (% of Canada) Number of subscribers * (All Bands)
Area (km2) Cellular PCS AWS Subscribers
* Data from CWTA, 2010
Rogers 9755534 100 100 100 8626000
Bell 8459191 71 93 91 6987386
TELUS 9755534 27 100 100 6699000
Globalive 9244475 0 3 77 93882
Videotron 1559869 0 0 49 N/A
Shaw 3542209 0 0 31 N/A
Mobilicity 552110 0 0 54 N/A
Public Mobile 656179 0 59 0 N/A
Novus Wireless 1606721 0 23 0 N/A
EastLink 1705345 0 0 16 N/A
SaskTel 655407 3 3 3 541105
MTS 646936 4 4 4 469744

1.3.2 Number of Assignments and Geographic Information

As the commercial mobile bands are spectrum licensed, no specific frequency assignments are made. Within their spectrum licence, the licensees are free to deploy stations as required by their business and technical requirements. The licensees are required as part of their licence conditions to report specific technical data for each station deployed. This data becomes part of the departmental spectrum management database and was used to generate this report.

The three tables below show the number of base station sites for Cellular, PCS and AWS operations deployed by the major service providers in each of the five regions, as of August 2010. It should be noted that Prairies-based service providers SaskTel and MTS hold a significant amount of Cellular and PCS spectrum holdings in the central region, and have deployed significant infrastructure.

Table 1.7: Number of sites operating in the Cellular band
Company Atlantic Quebec Ontario Central Pacific Total
Rogers 284 858 1770 839 640 4391
Bell 478 380 1347 2 65 2272
TELUS - 108 - 454 528 1090
SaskTel - - - 471 - 471
MTS - - - 224 - 224
Total 762 1346 3117 1998 1244 8467
Table 1.8: Number of sites operating in the PCS band
Company Atlantic Quebec Ontario Central Pacific Total
Rogers 236 815 1753 763 622 4189
Bell - 422 971 232 214 1839
TELUS 38 369 748 325 254 1734
SaskTel - - - 142 - 142
Public Mobile - 133 111 - - 244
Total 278 1739 3583 1498 1090 8188
Table 1.9: Number of sites operating in the AWS band
Company Atlantic Quebec Ontario Central Pacific Total
Globalive - - 421 151 119 691
Mobilicity - - 172 - - 172
Videotron - 464 - - - 464
Total - 464 593 151 119 1327

As expected, most cellular and PCS sites (and deployments) are in Ontario, which accounts for approximately 40% of the Canadian population and has some of Canada's largest markets (Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa).

It should be noted that service providers co-locate their cellular and PCS sites to reduce costs of building and maintaining new towers and backhaul links. Most/all sites have transmitters in the cellular band, whereas PCS band is used mainly in the urban areas or along major transportation corridors. This is the reason that the figures for cellular are higher than PCS.

Atlantic Canada has more than five times more cellular sites than PCS, whereas Ontario and Quebec have one and a half times more cellular sites than PCS. One possible reason for this is that Atlantic Canada is much more rural and the market is not demanding as much capacity so that deployment of PCS is slower there.

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1.3.4 Trend Charts

Commercial mobile technologies have evolved significantly over the last three decades. From simple 1G telephony, which supported voice-only transmission, to today's 4G technology, which supports voice plus increasingly higher data speeds, service providers are adopting newer technologies to meet consumer demands for higher data speeds, uninterrupted communication and user-transparent roaming.

Analog technologies, which have become obsolete in commercial mobile communication services, traditionally operate on 30 kHz bandwidths, i.e. one conversation takes up 30 + 30 kHz of bandwidth. Most new commercial mobile communications have now adopted digital technologies, such as Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM),Footnote 6 Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA), which use bandwidths of 200, 1250 and 5000 kHz respectively, and can accommodate multiple users (holding simultaneous multiple conversations or high data rate sessions) on each RF carrier.

The following two figures demonstrate how the use of various technologies has evolved in recent years relative to the implementation in Canada (based on the data from across the country reported by licensees). In figures 1.7 and 1.8, the term "frequency record" refers to an entry into the spectrum management database which indicates the use of a specific transmission mode (i.e. a specific technology, e.g. GSM, CDMA, etc.) at a specific site or sector of a sectorized site.

Figure 1.7 – Technology Trends in Cellular Band
Figure 1.4 – Technology Trends in Cellular Band [Description of Figure 1.7]

As can be seen from the above figure, most service providers have begun implementing newer technologies, such as HSPA, which provide higher data speeds and can accommodate more users on each RF carrier.

The trends in the PCS band show that HSPA use has increased substantially over the past year. CDMA use has seen a slight decrease recently, but is still quite common in the PCS band. GSM/GPRS/EDGE technology use has shown little changes, but HSPA is now almost as common as GSM/GPRS/EDGE in the PCS band.

Figure 1.8 – Technology Trends in PCS Band
Figure 1.8 – Technology Trends in Personal Communications Service Band [Description of Figure 1.8]

The GSM figures in figures 1.4 and 1.5 reflect the use of this technology by Rogers. The CDMA technology is used by the rest of the service providers, such as Bell, TELUS, MTS, SaskTel and TBayTel (i.e. the incumbent local exchange service providers); however, almost all operators are now deploying HSPA technology in their existing spectrum holdings.

As mentioned earlier, HSPA technology has been chosen as the latest generation technology by most service providers in Canada and has seen widespread deployment in recent years. New competitors in the AWS band, such as Globalive Wireless and Mobilicity, are using only HSPA on their networks. The figures below illustrate the technologies deployed by Canada's top three service providers in terms of number of sectors using a specific technology.

Figure 1.9 – Technologies used by top 3 Canadian service providers
Figure 1.6a–Technologies Used in Cellular Band Figure 1.6b – Technologies Used in Personal Communications Service Band [Description of Figure 1.9]

1.3.5 Spectrum Available for Licensing

The following analysis provides information regarding spectrum available for commercial mobile services, based on current utilization as noted in the previous sections. Mobile Broadband Service (MBS)

Up to 80 MHz of spectrumFootnote 7 in the 700 MHz band (698-764/776-794 MHz) will be available for commercial mobile services following the DTV transition, which is slated for August 31, 2011. This spectrum will be auctioned in 2012 – 2013 across the country.

Figure 1.10 – Spectrum availability in 700 MHz band
Figure 1.10 – Spectrum availability in 700 Megahertz band [Description of Figure 1.10] Cellular

In the Cellular band (824-849 MHz of commercial spectrum has been licensed to service providers across the country and the band is fully deployed, thus, no spectrum in this band remains. 1670-1675 MHz band

In this band, there are 5 MHz available for licensing in certain regions of Canada. See green shaded areas in Figure 1.11.

Figure 1.11 – Spectrum availability in the 1670-1675 band
Figure 1.11 – Spectrum availability in the 1670-1675 band [Description of Figure 1.11] Advanced Wireless Services (AWS)

In the AWS band, there is currently no spectrum available for licensing. Personal Communication Systems (PCS)

In PCS band, different amounts of spectrum are available for licensing, mostly in the areas shaded in green, as indicated in the following figure.

Figure 1.12 – Spectrum availability in the PCS band
Figure 1.12 – Spectrum availability in the Personal Communications Service band [Description of Figure 1.12] Broadband Radio Service (BRS)

In the BRS band, there is spectrum available in every area across the country. The amount of spectrum available for auction is either 60 or 120 MHz, as shown in Figure 1.13.

Figure 1.13 – Spectrum availability in the BRS band
Figure 1.13 – Spectrum availability in the Broadband Radio Service band. This map shows that there is spectrum available in the 700 MHz band, across Canada. [Description of Figure 1.13]

Note: Manitoba school boards and commercial operation in Manitoba have been grandfathered and are occupying the BRS spectrum in most areas in southern Manitoba.


  1. back to footnote reference 6 General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) are subsequent GSM standards providing progressively higher speed data transmission rates.
  2. back to footnote reference 7 Possibly three blocks 6 + 6 SMSE-018-10)
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