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Archived—A Brief History of Cellular and PCS Licensing


In the document: 

  • Cellular licensee — is a radiocommunication carrier who operates radio apparatus installed in a base station that communicates on the transmit and receive frequencies in the radio frequency band 869.040 MHz to 893.970 MHz and the transmit and receive frequencies in the radio frequency band 824.040 MHz to 848.970 MHz.
  • Incumbent PCS Licensee — is a PCS licensee authorized in the comparative selection and licensing process of 1995.
  • PCS licensee — is a radiocommunication carrier who operates radio apparatus installed in a base station that communicates on the transmit and receive frequencies in the radio frequency band 1850 MHz to 1990 MHz.

The Introduction of Cellular

On October 15, 1982 the Department of Communications (now the Department of Industry) issued Gazette Notice DGTN-006-82/DGTR-017-82, Cellular Mobile Radio Policy and Call for Licence Applications. This notice outlined the sub-allocation plan for the cellular spectrum in which: one 20 MHz block of cellular spectrum (sub-band B) was allocated to the local telephone companies in their operating areas; one 20 MHz block (sub-band A) was made available to other applicants; and two blocks of five (5) MHz of cellular spectrum were held in reserve for future use. Specifically the notice stated: 

Sub-Allocation - Telecommunications Common Carriers. The Department invites applications from regulated Canadian telecommunications common carriers to provide cellular mobile radio telephone services within the operating territories where they provide public switched telephone service. For this purpose, the Department will allocate two blocks of frequencies: 

835-845 MHz Mobile Transmit
880-890 MHz Base Transmit

Sub-Allocation - Other Applicants. The Department will accept proposals from other applicants to provide cellular mobile radio telephone services in areas also served by regulated Canadian telecommunications common carriers. For this purpose, the Department will allocate two blocks of frequencies: 

825-835 MHz Mobile Transmit
870-880 MHz Base Transmit

On December 14, 1983 the then Minister of the Department of Communications, Francis Fox, announced that CANTEL (now Rogers Wireless Inc.) was the successful applicant for cellular spectrum sub-band A. In the announcement the Minister also invited applications from the telephone companies to provide service in cellular spectrum sub-band B. All licensees were authorized to begin offering their cellular service on July 1, 1985. A list of all current cellular licensees is provided in Appendix A, and their service areas in Appendix B.

In 1989, the two five (5) MHz of cellular spectrum that had been reserved for future use were allotted to the two cellular sub-bands and assigned to the incumbent cellular licensees. The cellular sub-bands are now as follows: 

Sub-band B - Telecommunications Common Carriers

835-845 MHz paired with 880-890 MHz
846.5-849 MHz paired with 891.5-894 MHz

Sub-band A - Other Applicants

824-835 MHz paired with 869-880 MHz
845-846.5 MHz paired with 890-891.5 MHz

For complete technical details concerning the cellular bands, refer to Standard Radio System Plan 503, Technical Requirements for Cellular Radiotelephone Systems Operating in the Bands 824-849 MHz and 869-894 MHz (SRSP-503).

The Introduction of PCS

In December 1995, the then Minister of Industry, John Manley, awarded PCS licences to 14 companies: two national 30 MHz PCS licences were awarded to Clearnet PCS Inc. and Microcell Networks Inc.; a national 10 MHz PCS licence was awarded to Rogers Cantel Mobile Inc.; and a 10 MHz PCS licence was awarded to the 11 regional shareholders of Mobility Personacom Canada Ltd. for their operating territories. A complete list of the successful applicants is provided in Appendix C. In the decision, two licences were held in reserve: one 30 MHz licence (block C/C') and one 10 MHz licence (block E/E').

To ensure that a competitive environment would be maintained, at the time of this licensing process, the Department also placed a limit on the amount of spectrum that any one entity or its affiliates could hold. This spectrum aggregation limit, commonly referred to as the spectrum cap, was set at 40 MHz and consisted of frequency assignments for PCS at 2 GHz, cellular radiotelephony, and similar public high-mobility radiotelephony services in the 800 MHz range such as Enhanced Specialized Mobile Radio Services (ESMR). On November 5, 1999, the Minister of Industry announced that the spectrum aggregation limit applying to PCS would be raised from 40 MHz to 55 MHz, and that 40 MHz of additional spectrum for PCS would be licensed by auction. The 40 MHz of additional spectrum consisted of PCS spectrum blocks C/C' and E/E', which had been held in reserve in 1995. These actions were taken to ensure the availability of adequate spectrum resources to meet the needs of the expanding PCS market, and also to enable the implementation of new offerings such as Advanced Wireless Services (AWS). For complete details on the aggregation limits refer to Radio Systems Policy 021, Revision to the PCS Spectrum Cap and Timing for Licensing Additional PCS Spectrum (RP-021).

For complete technical details concerning the PCS bands, refer to Standard Radio System Plan 510, Technical Requirements for Personal Communications Services in the Bands 1850-1910 MHz and 1930-1990 MHz (SRSP-510).

The Introduction of Third Party Cellular

In 1998 the Department released its policy on 'third party' cellular entitled Radio Systems Policy 019, Policy for the Provision of Cellular Services by New Parties (RP-019). The purpose of this policy is to effect changes the policies respecting the authorization of cellular service providers operating in the frequency bands 824-849 MHz and 869-894 MHz, so as to extend the provision of cellular services to unserved and underserved areas in a timely and orderly manner, by enabling entities, other than those which previously were or could have been authorized to offer such services, to proffer cellular services. Since the release the Department has issued a number of third party cellular authorizations for sub-block B and continues to receive applications.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Since the initial licensing processes a number of mergers, acquisitions and reorganizations have occurred among the licensees. To begin with, in 1998 AGT Mobility Inc. merged with BC TEL Services Inc. and Québec Téléphone to form TELUS Corporation. TELUS and Thunder Bay Telephone subsequently left the Mobility Canada Association, with the remaining members reforming under the Bell Wireless Alliance. This was followed by the acquisition of Clearnet by TELUS in late 2000. As part of the restructuring TELUS created a new corporate entity, TELE-MOBILE COMPANY, which is a partnership between 3817873 Canada Inc. and TELUS Communications Inc. This partnership holds all the wireless licences associated with the two partners.

As a consequence of the acquisition of Clearnet, TELUS had to return to the Department 20 MHz of spectrum in three areas of the country to come into compliance with the spectrum cap. To come into compliance TELUS choose to return certain PCS spectrum that was originally assigned to Clearnet PCS Inc. and Québec Téléphone in its telephone operating territories in British Columbia, Alberta, and Eastern Quebec. As Clearnet was originally authorized for 30 MHz (spectrum block B/B') and TELUS needed to return only a portion of this, the Department had to divide spectrum block B/B' into three 10 MHz blocks (B1/B1', B2/B2', B3/B3'). The table below lists the spectrum blocks and service areas returned in 2000. A list of the current PCS spectrum blocks is provided in Appendix D.

Table 1: Spectrum returned by TELUS to the Department in 2000
Frequency Block Service area Frequency
B2/B2' 2-12 Alberta 1875-1880/1955-1960 MHz
B3/B3' 2-12 Alberta 1880-1885/1960-1965 MHz
B2/B2' TEL-45 Southern B.C., Dawson Creek 1875-1880/1955-1960 MHz
B3/B3' TEL-45 Southern B.C., Dawson Creek 1880-1885/1960-1965 MHz
B3/B3' TEL-02 Sept-Îles and Gaspé 1880-1885/1960-1965 MHz
D/D' TEL-02 Sept-Îles and Gaspé 1865-1870/1945-1950 MHz

Over the period from 2001 to 2002, the four local telephone companies in the Atlantic provinces consolidated under one company -- Aliant Telecom Inc. Also, BCE reorganized and restructured two of its companies operating in Ontario and Quebec (NorthernTel L.P. and Telebec L.P.) under a trust fund called Bell Nordiq.

2001 PCS Auction

In January 2001 the Department held an auction for the 40 MHz of PCS spectrum that had been held in reserve by the Minister in his 1995 licensing decision (PCS blocks C and E) and the spectrum returned to the Department by TELUS in 2000. Five entities bid on 52 spectrum licences across the country with bids totalling $1.48 billion. A list of the successful bidders is provided in Appendix E. For the spectrum licences not assigned following the PCS spectrum auction the Department announced its intention to assign them on a First-come, First-served basis (FCFS) or, where demand exceeds supply, by auction. (Refer to Gazette Notice DGRB-004-03, Unassigned Personal Communications Services (PCS) Spectrum in the 2 GHz Frequency Range.) A list of PCS licensees and their detailed spectrum holdings and service areas are listed in Appendix F.

Conversion to Spectrum Licensing

In December 2002, the Department released Gazette Notice DGRB-004-02 entitled Consultation on a New Fee and Licensing Regime for Cellular and Incumbent Personal Communications Services (PCS) Licensees. The Department proposed a transition of the cellular and incumbent PCS licensees to new licensing and fee regimes based on spectrum licences and a common fee. Based on the comments and reply comments received, the Department defined the final policy for the transition of cellular and incumbent PCS licensees to the new licensing and fee regimes. The new fee regime was announced in Gazette Notice DGRB-005-03, Radio Authorization Fees for Wireless Telecommunication Systems that Operate in the Radio Frequency Bands 824.040 MHz to 848.970 MHz, 869.040 MHz to 893.970 MHz or 1850 MHz to 1990 MHz.

The new licensing regime was announced in Gazette Notice DGRB-006-03. This notice announced the release of the paper entitled Spectrum Licensing Policy for Cellular and Incumbent Personal Communications Services (PCS) which outlines Industry Canada's proposal for the transition of cellular and incumbent PCS licences to spectrum licences similar to those issued following the auction of additional PCS spectrum in the 2 GHz range.

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