Radio Spectrum Inventory: A 2010 Snapshot — Canada

Chapter 3 – Land Mobile

3.1 Background

3.1.1 Definition of Service

There are many definitions of land mobile either as a service or as an application. In this study, land mobile is considered as a sub-set of the mobile service with specific characteristics. The ITU-R Radio Regulations Article 1.24 defines mobile service as "A radiocommunication service between mobile and land stations, or between mobile stations." Article 1.67 defines mobile station as "A station in the mobile service intended to be used while in motion or during halts at unspecified points." Article 1.69 defines land station as "A station in the mobile service not intended to be used while in motion." Many bands below 1 GHz that are allocated to the mobile service are used for land mobile systems.

Land mobile systems are radiocommunication systems that generally include specific features:

  • push-to-talk, release to listen – a single button press opens communication on a radio frequency channel;
  • large coverage areas;
  • closed user groups and/or direct communication between radios; and
  • relatively narrow channel bandwidths (e.g. 6.25 kHz, 12.5 kHz and 25 kHz).

3.1.2 Broad description of type of service/applications

Land mobile systems are used to provide push-to-talk voice communications and low-speed data to users. Land mobile systems are comprised of base stations, repeaters, portables and mobiles. Base stations are fixed stations that are usually high power and at high elevations to provide service to portables and mobiles. Repeaters are essentially mobile base stations that are used to extend the base station coverage. Portables are handheld radios and mobiles, vehicle mounted radios which either communicate with a base station/repeater or with each other. Land mobile systems operate either in conventional mode or as trunked systems.

Conventional systems allow a user the use of only one channel. If that assigned channel is already in use, the user must wait until the channel becomes available. Management of the channels used in a conventional system is done by the users.

Trunked systems employ access control techniques to share channel capacity among multiple users. In a trunked system, a control channel is used and the decision as to which channel is used is invisible to the user. The design of a trunked system allows it to support more users on fewer channels than a conventional system.

The land mobile bands are also used for one-way and two-way paging systems and some low-speed data applications.

3.2 Current Allocations and Utilization

3.2.1 List of allocated bands

In general, the land mobile bands are allocated to the mobile service on a primary basis and are in frequency bands below 1 GHz. For the purposes of this study, the paging and narrowband  PCS bands are also considered, as they have similar rules. Table 3.1 provides a list of the bands and some notes on their utilization.

Table 3.1: Land Mobile Bands
Bands Utilization
27.41-28 MHz Land mobile
29.7-50 MHz Land mobile
72-76 MHz Land mobile
138-144 MHz Land mobile
148-174 MHz Land mobile, maritime mobile
216-222 MHz Land mobile, 15 pairs of 5 kHz channels are designated for public safety
406.1-430 MHz Land mobile
450-470 MHz Land mobile
768-776 MHz Land mobile band designated to public safety
798-806 MHz Land mobile band designated to public safety
806-824 MHz Land mobile, 821-824 MHz is designated for public safety
851-869 MHz Land mobile, 866-869 MHz is designated for public safety
896-901 MHz Land mobile
901-902 MHzFootnote 10 Narrowband PCS
929-930 MHz Paging
930-931 MHz Narrowband PCS
931-932 MHz Paging
935-940 MHz Land mobile
940-941 MHz10 Narrowband PCS

There is a total of 167.115 MHz of spectrum that has been allocated for land mobile systems. In some of these bands, the fixed service is also allowed but the main use is land mobile and, in the congested areas, mobile systems are given priority access.

Land mobile bands are often discussed using the following nomenclature:

  • 138-144 MHz and 148-174 MHz are called the VHF band;
  • 406.1-430 MHz and 450-470 MHz are called the UHF band;
  • 768-776 MHz and 798-806 MHz are called the 700 MHz band;
  • 806-824 MHz and 851-869 MHz are called the 800 MHz band; and
  • 896-902 MHz, 929-932 MHz and 935-941 MHz are called the 900 MHz band.

These are used in the discussion that follows.

Land Mobile use from 52 MHz to 38 GHz (for additional information, refer to Annex 1):
Land Mobile use from 52 MHz to 38 GHz (for additional information, refer to Annex 1) [Description of Figure]

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3.2.2 Band plans (pairing) where applicable

Land mobile bands are either paired for duplex operations or unpaired for simplex operations. The majority of the spectrum for land mobile is paired for trunked systems. In general, the upper pair of a land mobile band is used for the base station transmitters and the lower pair is used for mobile transmitters.

Figures 3.1 through 3.5 below provide the band plans for the majority of the bands listed in Table 3.1.

Figure 3.1 – VHF Band Plan
Figure 3.1 – VHF Band Plan [Description of Figure 3.1]
Figure 3.2 – UHF Band Plan
Figure 3.2 – UHF Band Plan [Description of Figure 3.2]

Figures 3.1 and 3.2 do not show the paired and unpaired portions for the UHF bands because the plans for both of these bands are very complex. Both bands have multiple paired blocks and multiple unpaired blocks.

Figure 3.3 – 700 MHz Public Safety Band Plan
Figure 3.3 – 700 MHz Public Safety Band Plan [Description of Figure 3.3]
Figure 3.4 – 800 MHz Band Plan
Figure 3.4 – 800 MHz Band Plan [Description of Figure 3.4]
Figure 3.5 – 900 MHz Band Plan
Figure 3.5 – 900 MHz Band Plan [Description of Figure 3.5]

The bands 27.41-28 MHz, 29.7-50 MHz and 216-220 MHz are not shown in the above figures because there is no national band plan to date. The band 220-222 MHz does have a simple band plan where 220-221 MHz is mobile transmit and 221-222 MHz is base transmit.

3.2.3 Type of licence (spectrum vs. frequency)

Land mobile systems are site licensed on a first-come, first-served basis. Some bands or channels are limited to public safety systems.

3.2.4 Comparison with the United States

In general, the Canadian land mobile bands align with the U.S. land mobile bands. Although the bands themselves are aligned, the way that the bands are used may not align with the United States. In some cases, there are different users, different channelling, a different duplex and trunking scheme, as well as different technical criteria for these bands in Canada and the United States.

For the most part, the United States has set up its land mobile bands for different users and users are limited to using designated channels. In Canada, some bands are designated for particular users, but those users are not limited to those bands. For example, the band 162-174 MHz is a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) band in the United States and can only be used by federal users, whereas in Canada, it can be used by any type of user.

Another example of differences between Canadian band plans is the recent U.S. rebanding of the 800 MHz band. The United States moved its public safety users to the lower part of the band, whereas Canada has maintained them in the upper part of the band. In this case, there was no need for a change, as Canada did not encounter the same inference issues and the equipment would remain available.

In the more recently released land mobile bands, the channelling and duplexing schemes are aligned between Canada and the United States, but in some of the older bands, such as the VHF band, these schemes do not align due to the number of users and the cost that would be involved in harmonizing with the United States.

The technical criteria for land mobile systems in Canada are often different from those in the United States. The equipment certification standards are harmonized, but the allowable power levels and the interference criteria are often different.

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3.3 Spectrum Inventory and Analysis

The analysis provided below focuses on the VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands. Given that each frequency was counted, and the mixture of duplex and simplex assignments in these bands, there may be cases where the numbers of assignments and/or licences could be doubled for duplex systems. However, the analysis still provides a useful snapshot of the use of the land mobile bands.

The 700 MHz band and the band 216-111 MHz are not included in the analysis below because they are fairly new bands where licensing has been minimal to date.

Additionally, the bands 27.41-28 MHz and 29.7-50 MHz are not included in this analysis. However, examining the current data, these bands are relatively lightly used across Canada and they are primarily used by the Department of National Defence and commercial enterprises (low-power communications used in retail establishments and restaurants).

3.3.1 Major users

Figures 3.6-3.9 below present, based on the number of frequency assignments, the current licensee distribution for the VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands.

Figure 3.6 – VHF Band Licensees
Figure 3.6 – VHF Band Licensees [Description of Figure 3.6]
Figure 3.7 – UHF Band Licensees
Figure 3.7 – UHF Band Licensees [Description of Figure 3.7]
Figure 3.8 – 800 MHz Band Licensees
Figure 3.8 – 800 MHz Band Licensees [Description of Figure 3.8]
Figure 3.9 – 900 MHz Band Licensees
Figure 3.9 – 900 MHz Band Licensees [Description of Figure 3.9]

From the figures above, for the VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands, the major licensees are commercial entities. These bands are heavily used by utilities, oil and gas companies, logging companies and at industrial sites. However, many commercial systems are shared with or providing services for federal, municipal and provincial government agencies. For example, in Manitoba, there is a province-wide system that is owned and operated by a commercial provider where the majority of the users are from all three levels of government to provide public safety communications.

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3.3.2 Number of Assignments and Geographic Information

Given the narrow bandwidth of land mobile systems, there are a significant number of assignments for each land mobile band. Currently, there are a total of 216,259 licences and 450,479 frequency assignments in the VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands.

Figures 3.10 to 3.17 show the distribution of the licences and frequency assignments by Region, and in the major metropolitan areas for the VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands.

Figure 3.10 – VHF Regional Distribution
Figure 3.10 – VHF Regional Distribution [Description of Figure 3.10]
Figure 3.11 – VHF Major Metropolitan Distribution
Figure 3.11 – VHF Major Metropolitan Distribution [Description of Figure 3.11]
Figure 3.12 – UHF Regional Distribution
Figure 3.12 – UHF Regional Distribution [Description of Figure 3.12]
Figure 3.13 – UHF Major Metropolitan Distribution
Figure 3.13 – UHF Major Metropolitan Distribution [Description of Figure 3.13]
Figure 3.14 – 800 MHz Regional Distribution
Figure 3.14 – 800 MHz Regional Distribution [Description of Figure 3.14]
Figure 3.15 – 800 MHz Major Metropolitan Distribution
Figure 3.15 – 800 MHz Major Metropolitan Distribution [Description of Figure 3.15]
Figure 3.16 – 900 MHz Regional Distribution
Figure 3.16 – 900 MHz Regional Distribution [Description of Figure 3.16]
Figure 3.17 – 900 MHz Major Metropolitan Distribution
Figure 3.17 – 900 MHz Major Metropolitan Distribution [Description of Figure 3.17]

The figures above show that, depending on the frequency band, there is a different distribution of assignments. This difference in distribution is related to the industry in the region and/or the coverage of other mobile systems. For example, in the VHF and UHF bands, the majority of the assignments are in the Prairie and Northern Region (PNR), as these bands are very heavily used by the oil and gas industry and in the north, where there are very few other mobile systems.

It is clear from the VHF and UHF figures above that, although there are systems in the major metropolitan areas, the majority of licenses fall outside of the bigger cities.

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3.3.3 Spectrum Usage Maps

3.4 Trend Charts

Over the last 10 years, land mobile systems have been evolving, conventional systems have been replaced with trunked systems and simplex systems have been replaced with duplex systems. The following analysis is based on an extracts from Industry Canada's database and does not account for this evolution. For example, the number of licences in a band may have decreased, but if those systems were replaced by trunked systems, then the number of users in that band may have increased.

Figures 3.18 to 3.22 show the total annual number of clients, licences and frequency assignments since 1998 for the VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands and for all of them combined.

Figure 3.18 – VHF Trends
Figure 3.18 – VHF Trends [Description of Figure 3.18]
Figure 3.19 – UHF Trends
Figure 3.19 – UHF Trends [Description of Figure 3.19]
Figure 3.20 – 800 MHz Trends
Figure 3.20 – 800 MHz Trends [Description of Figure 3.20]
Figure 3.21 – 900 MHz Trends
Figure 3.21 – 900 MHz Trends [Description of Figure 3.21]
Figure 3.22 – Compiled VHF, UHF, 800 MHz and 900 MHz Trends
Figure 3.22 – Compiled VHF, Ultra High Frequency, 800 MHz and 900 MHz Trends [Description of Figure 3.22]

As can be seen in the above figures, assignments have been declining in the VHF band, increasing in the 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands, and have remained steady in the UHF band. Figure 3.22 shows that, overall, there has been a relatively stable number of frequency assignments, licences and clients in the land mobile bands.

It is clear from the above figures that the VHF and UHF bands are heavily used, with many clients in each band. For the 800 MHz band, the above figures may be a bit misleading, as there are fewer assignments and clients; however, this band is used heavily by commercial operators with a large client base.

In comparison, the 900 MHz band is not used very heavily. The 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands have similar physical characteristics; however, in the 15 MHz of spectrum available in the 900 MHz band, only 11,059 frequency assignments currently exist, whereas in the 32 MHz spectrum available in the 800 MHz band, there are 98,887 frequency assignments. This may be due to a difference in rules and equipment availability between the two bands.

There are many other factors that could be taken into account when examining the trends for the land mobile bands. There are some barriers to growth in some bands, for example, in a portion of the UHF band, there is a Canada-United States agreement that requires updating to open the band for new, more efficient equipment. Some of the bands are very complex, with a mixture of duplex, simplex, trunking, conventional, as well as small and large systems, which would require a more thorough analysis in order to make comparisons between the land mobile bands.


  1. back to footnote reference 10 GHz made changes to this band to make it land mobile. Not yet been implemented.
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