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Service areas for competitive licensing


Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) uses defined service areas for competitive licensing processes such as:

  • spectrum auctions
  • competitive review processes
  • first-come first-served licensing

See below for:

If you have any questions about the licensing process or the use of these service areas, contact your local ISED district office.


Service areas for competitive licensing
Service area Service area name Province Full province Population (2016) Sub-tiers


Map and table instructions

Use our interactive map and table to explore the various ISED service areas available for competitive licensing.

  • click on a “Tier” button to filter the table by tier and to display that tier’s service area(s) on the map
  • click on a highlighted area on the map for details about a specific service area (including service area name, service area number, 2016 population and 2016 dwellings)
  • use the on/off check boxes in the legend to show the Tier 5 categories (metropolitan, urban, rural or remote) on the map
  • use the “Filter items” box to narrow your search (by province/territory, city, service area name, service area number, etc.)
  • click on the magnifying glass in the table to display a specific service area in context on the map (available for Tier 3 service areas only)

More information than what is provided in this interactive format can be found in the Excel and map files, which are available for free download.

Downloadable files

Additional, detailed information on ISED service areas is available.

Use the following links to download the service areas table and service areas maps.

Service areas table

The table can be downloaded in Microsoft Excel (.xlsx) format for your use.

Service areas maps

Map layers can be downloaded in Google Earth Pro (.KML) and MapInfo Pro (.TAB) formats for your use.

  • KML files can be accessed in Google Earth Pro free of charge.
  • KML and TAB files can be imported into a number of other programs including most geographic information system (GIS) software, some of which are freely available open source programs.

In case of discrepancy between file types, the data contained in the TAB file will prevail.

Additional information on service areas

This section contains descriptions of the service areas that ISED uses for competitive licensing processes, as well as a brief history of ISED service areas.

Service areas overview

Different wireless services and applications are better suited to licensing by different sizes of service areas. Therefore, ISED has established six service area types ranging from a single, national service area (Tier 1) through smaller service areas based on population and geography (Tier 5), as well as Local Telephone Service Areas (TEL). These are described in the table below.

Service areas overview
Service area type Number of service areas Description
Tier 1 1 A single, national service area
Tier 2 16 Provincial and large regional service areas
Tier 3 59 Smaller regional service areas
Tier 4 172 Localized service areas
Tier 5 654 Smaller service areas based on population and geography, and designated as one of four specific area categories:
  • metropolitan
  • urban (medium and large population centres)
  • rural
  • remote
Local Telephone (TEL) 66 Historical wireline service areas of local telephone companies
(slowly being retired)

To use spectrum in these service areas, a spectrum licence (defined as an authorization “in respect of the utilization of specified radio frequencies within a defined geographic area” as per section 5(1) of the Radiocommunication Act) must be obtained.

History of service areas in Canada

Tiers 1-4

Tiers 1-4 were first introduced in 1998 through Gazette Notice DGRB-002-98 to facilitate the competitive licensing of spectrum through auctions. To suit different wireless services and applications, four tiers were established, ranging from a single national service area (Tier 1) to 172 localized service areas (Tier 4). All tiers nest within one another for consistency.

The Tier 4 localized service area boundaries were initially developed using contiguous groupings of Statistics Canada’s 1996 census subdivisions. Wherever possible, boundaries were established through remote areas to:

  • minimize potential interference problems
  • avoid dividing population centres
  • reflect certain wireline service areas

Since then, the Canadian population has grown, and its population distribution has shifted.

Some minor deviations were made around provincial borders and population areas to avoid having a service area boundary cut through populated areas.

Tier 3 boundaries are based on groupings of Tier 4 localized service areas. Similarly, Tier 2 provincial and large regional service areas are based on groupings of Tier 3 service areas. Tier 1 is a grouping of all the tiers’ service areas.

Two Tier 2 areas, Province of Saskatchewan (2-017) and Province of Alberta (2-018) were created for the 700 MHz auction held in 2014. These tier areas generally adhere to the Alberta-Saskatchewan interprovincial border and maintain the territorial integrity of each province instead of adhering to previous population-based amendments mentioned above. These two Tier 2 service areas do not have associated Tier 3 and Tier 4 service areas.

Local Telephone Service Areas (TEL)

TEL service areas were developed to accommodate the transition of non-auctioned cellular and Personal Communications Services (PCS) licences from apparatus-based licences to spectrum licences. TEL service areas generally correspond to the historic wireline service areas of telephone companies that were operating in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia at the time of the TEL service areas’ development.

These service areas are slowly being retired as they fall out of use.

Minor adjustments to Tier 1-4 and TEL service areas

As a result of the modernization of its spectrum management system, ISED made minor adjustments to all Tier 1-4 and TEL service areas in 2015.

Specifically, ISED changed the definition of the building block of service areas from a 25 km2 hexagonal shaped block to a 1 minute latitude × 1 minute longitude grid cell to better facilitate electronic storage and representation of licences. This change from hexagonal grid cells to the new grid cells is outlined in DGSO-004-15, Decisions on Changes to the Definition of Competitive and User-Defined Service Areas for Spectrum Licences.

Variations between the borders of the grid-cell defined areas, the previous hexagonal blocks, and the underlying census divisions and subdivision(s) were minimal.

Tier 5

In 2019, ISED introduced smaller spectrum service areas known as Tier 5 service areas through DGSO-006-19, Decision on a New Set of Service Areas for Spectrum Licensing. These were based on Statistics Canada 2016 census information and resulted in the creation of 654 new service areas. Tier 5 service areas nest within Tier 4 service areas.

To recognize and reflect the unique geographic distribution of Canada’s population and to allow for greater flexibility in the management of spectrum, each Tier 5 service area is designated as one of four specific categories:

  • metropolitan areas (Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal and their environs)
  • urban areas (medium and large population centres)
  • rural areas
  • remote areas
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