Radio Spectrum Inventory: A 2010 Snapshot — Canada

Chapter 5 – Public Safety

5.1 Background

5.1.1 Definition

The term "public safety" refers to services or applications related to the preservation of life and protection of property. The Department defines the categories of users or agencies that may be eligible for licensing in designated public safety spectrum as follows:

  • Category 1 – police, fire and emergency medical services;
  • Category 2 – forestry, public works, public transit, hazardous material clean-up, border protection and other agencies contributing to public safety; and
  • Category 3 – other government agencies and certain non-governmental agencies or entities.

The term "public safety agencies" generally refers to Category 1 and 2 agencies collectively. That is, Category 1 and 2 agencies generally support the principle of preserving life and protecting property. Category 3 agencies may not be directly related to the preservation of life and protection of property.

The hierarchy of agencies, as described by the categories above, is applied in the radio licensing process to outline priority access to spectrum designated or made available for public safety use.

5.1.2 Broad Description of Type of Service/Applications

Public safety entities use both land mobile and broadband mobile applications. As such, the descriptions of these applications apply to public safety.

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 individuals, to large groups at one time and between individuals and command. Broadband mobile is used by public safety to provide information that will improve situational awareness and increase response time, such as, pictures, blueprints, real-time video feeds, fast records transfer, etc.

Many public safety agencies need to talk to one another in the event of an emergency or a disaster. Therefore, interoperability is an important requirement for public safety. Common spectrum for public safety systems is very important to allow for interoperability.

5.2 Current Allocations and Utilization

Currently, there are public safety systems in many bands, but, in general, public safety entities are major users of the land mobile bands. The Department has also designated several bands for public safety use, as shown in Table 5.1 below. Figure 5.1 shows that the bands are heavily used by public safety entities.

Figure 5.1 – Bands Heavily Used by Public Safety Entities
Figure 5.1 – Bands Heavily Used by Public Safety Entities [Description of Figure 5.1]

5.2.1 List of Allocated Bands

Table 5.1 below provides a list of bands that are designated for public safety. Licensing in these bands is limited to the categories defined in Section 5.1.1 and are assigned based on a hierarchy of those categories.

Table 5.1: Bands Designated for Public Safety
Designated Public Safety Bands Amount of Spectrum Utilization
220-222 MHz (15 pairs of 5 kHz channels) 0.15 MHz Land mobile
764-776 MHzFootnote 11 12 MHz Land mobile
794-806 MHzFootnote 12 12 MHz Land mobile
821-824 MHz MHz Land mobile
866-869 MHz MHz Land mobile
4940-4990 MHz 50 MHz Broadband mobile and fixed

Currently, there is a total of 80.15 MHz designated for public safety use.

5.2.2 Band plans (pairing) where applicable

Refer to the Land Mobile band plans in Chapter 3.

Public Safety use from 52  MHz to 38GHz (for additional information, refer to Annex 1):
Public Safety use from 52 Megahertz to 38 Gigahertz [Description of Figure]

5.2.3 Type of Licence (spectrum vs. frequency)

Public safety land mobile systems are site-licensed on a first-come, first served basis. The mobile licences in the band 4940-4990 MHz are non-exclusive spectrum licences and the fixed licences are site-licensed.

5.2.4 Comparison with the United States

As with the land mobile bands, in general the Canadian public safety bands align with the United States. Although the public safety 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, different duplex and trunking schemes, as well as different technical criteria for these public safety bands in Canada and in the United States.

Additionally, the United States has some public safety bands in UHF which, in Canada, are not limited to public safety. Therefore, Canadian public safety users are not concentrated in particular frequencies in these bands and are not limited to a certain amount of spectrum that they can occupy.

top of page

5.3 Spectrum Inventory and Analysis

It is difficult to distinguish between all the public safety licences and other licences in the database. In order to have concrete statistics, a detailed analysis would be required. Given that most of the land mobile bands, the MHz bands in particular are heavily used for public safety, the trends presented in the land mobile study in Chapter 3 are equally applicable to this one.

Of the bands shown in Table 5.1, only the bands 821-824 MHz PS band) have been in use for any length of time, and will therefore be used as an example for the analysis below.

It should be noted that the 800 MHz PS band is primarily a duplex band; however there are receive-only systems and some simplex systems. As it is difficult to make the distinction from the data extractions, the following analysis is based on a combination of both receiver and transmitter information.

5.3.1 Major users

Public safety users are not limited to the bands designated for public safety. The public safety community uses all the land mobile bands heavily.

In the bands designated for public safety, Category 1 users are the primary users. Of the Category 1 users, the police community generally requires the most spectrum.

5.3.2 Number of assignments and geographic information

Figures 5.2 and 5.3 show the distribution of the licences and frequency assignments by Region, and in the major metropolitan areas for the 800 MHz PS band.

Figure 5.2 – 800 MHz PS Band Regional Distribution
Figure 5.2 – 800 MégahertzPS Band Regional Distribution [Description of Figure 5.2]
Figure 5.3 – 800 MHz PS Band Major Metropolitan Distribution
Figure 5.3 – 800 Mégahertz PS Band Major Metropolitan Distribution [Description of Figure 5.3]

From the above figures, it is clear that Ontario contains by far the heaviest use of the 800 MHz PS band. One reason that this band is very attractive in Ontario is the Arrangement with the United States in the border area. The 800 MHz band has a block and zone arrangement which gives Canada primary access to 70% of the spectrum along a large portion of the Canada-United States border.

The results may lead to a conclusion that the 800 MHz band is only being used heavily in the Ontario region. It is important to note that many public safety agencies are purchasing service in the 800 MHz band from a commercial carrier that would not have access to the public safety portion of the spectrum.

5.3.3 Spectrum Usage Maps

5.4 Trend Charts

The 800 MHz band was opened for land mobile in the mid 1990s. As this is the only band that has been designated for public safety over a long period of time, it is the only band where the trends can be assessed. Figure 5.4 provides the trends in number of clients, licences and frequency assignments in the 800 MHz public safety band since 1998.

Figure 5.4 – 800 MHz PS Band Trends
Figure 5.4 – 800 Mégahertz PS Band Trends [Description of Figure 5.4]

It is clear from Figure 5.4 that there has been significant growth in the 800 MHz PS band since 1998. The numbers of clients, licences and frequency assignments have more than doubled.

In the more recent years, the growth of the band has slowed. This can be explained by the fact that there are currently very few channels available in the metropolitan areas where the 800 MHz PS band is primarily used.

5.5 Conclusion

Public safety agencies are major users of the land mobile bands (as described in Chapter 3) however it is difficult to assess exactly how much spectrum they currently occupy in these bands. An exception to this is where the band has been designated exclusively for public safety.

The only band that has been designated to public safety for over 10 years is the 800 MHz PS band. This band has grown significantly, even to capacity in some areas, over the past 10 years.

In the past five years, the Department has released new spectrum designated to public safety; however, due to equipment availability and policy changes, these bands are only just beginning to be deployed. It is expected that these bands could see growth similar to the 800 MHz band. Growth in the bands designated for public safety may change the trends in the other land mobile bands in the future.


  1. back to footnote reference 11 Utilization of the band 764-768 MHz is subject to further consultation.
  2. back to footnote reference 12 Utilization of the band 794-798 MHz is subject to further consultation.
Date modified: