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Canadian Spectrum Inventory

Share of National Commercial Mobile Spectrum Licence Holdings by Percentage 2010 – 2016

(click for clearer image)         2010

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Source: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Consultation on a Policy and Technical Framework for the700 MHz Band and Aspects Related to Commercial Mobile Spectrum. 2010





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Source: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, National Holdings for Commercial Mobile Spectrum Licences. 2016














Radio spectrum is a natural resource, subject to regulation domestically and internationally. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is responsible for coordinating international regulation. The ITU’s legal definitions of significant terminology and explanations are offered below:

(ITU) Allocation (of a frequency band): Entry in the Table of Frequency Allocations of a given frequency band for the purpose of its use by one or more terrestrial or space radiocommunication services or the radio astronomy service under specified conditions. This term shall also be applied to the frequency band concerned. [Frequency distribution to: Services.]

Spectrum is divided into different frequency bands by international agreement at a World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), which are sponsored by the International Telecommunications Union. These bands are “allocated” to one or more radio services or for specific usages. Each band has been allocated by international agreement at a WRC to one or more radio services or for specific usages. When allocations are extended or revised at a WRC, Industry Canada then (re)allocates specific frequency bands domestically.

As an example, in Canada the 700MHz band was allocated for analogue television broadcast. As part of the Digital Television transition, parts of this band has been “re-allocated” for telecommunication services.

(ITU) Allotment (of a radio frequency or radio frequency channel): Entry of a designated frequency channel in an agreed plan, adopted by a competent conference, for use by one or more administrations for a terrestrial or space radiocommunication service in one or more identified countries or geographical areas and under specified conditions. [Frequency distribution to: Areas or Countries.]

While the ITU coordinates (allocates) frequency bands for various services (such as mobile communications, radio astronomy, broadcasting, etc), individual countries and regions determine how those frequencies will be divided (both geographically and channel size) for usage.

As an example, the 700MHz band was divided (allotted) into a number of spectrum blocks of paired (6x6MHz and 5x5MHz) and unpaired spectrum (6MHz), based on Tier 2 service areas. (See below for more information on Canadian service areas and tiers.)

(ITU) Assignment (of a radio frequency or radio frequency channel): Authorization given by an administration for a radio station to use a radio frequency or radio frequency channel under specified conditions. [Frequency distribution to: Stations.]

Within an allocated/allotted frequency band, specific users or types of users can be assigned spectrum frequencies. These assignments allow a specific frequency or group of frequencies to be used for a specified purpose under specified technical conditions.

As an example, parts of the 700MHz band were assigned for both commercial telecommunications services from multiple carriers and public safety communications. Currently, the 763-768MHz and 793-798MHz bands have been assigned as the Public Safety Broadband (PSBB) block.


Canadian Electromagnetic Spectrum allocation between 9 kHz and 275 GHz

Radio Spectrum Allocations in Canada, 2014
Source: Industry Canada [PDF]


Current Bands Allocated for Commercial Mobile in Canada

Cellular: 824-849 MHz/869-894 MHz
Personal Communications Services (PCS): 1850-1915 MHz/1930-1995 MHz
Advanced Wireless Services (AWS): 1710-1755 MHz/2110-2155 MHz
Broadband Radio Services (BRS): 2500-2690 MHz
Mobile Broadband Service (MBS): 698-764 MHz/776-794 MHz
1670-1675 MHz

(source: Industry Canada. Radio Spectrum Inventory, 2010).



In Canada, commercial mobile service providers are granted spectrum licences to provide coverage over a specific geographic area defined as service areas. There are four tier sizes:

  • Tier 1 is a national licence and service area that covers all of Canada.
  • Tier 2 consists of 14 large service areas. There are eight Tier 2 service areas that have provincial boundaries and six that are within Ontario and Quebec.
  • Tier 3, pictured below, is made of 59 regional service areas.
  • Tier 4 is composed of 172 localized service areas. Statistics Canada 2001 census information was used to define the populations of service areas.

The choice of tier size and network coverage/rollout rules and conditions — if any — can greatly impact service delivery, number of competitors, etc, especially for those living outside major urban centres. The larger the tier size, the more rural area is included with urban cities and towns. Carriers will prioritize providing coverage and network upgrades to more profitable urban areas. As current licences grant carriers exclusive spectrum usage rights, other carriers, including independent local companies, are unable to provide alternative cellular service.

Canadian Tier 3 Spectrum License Map

A map of Canadian Tier 3 Competitive Licence Areas for radio spectrum. Source: Radio Spectrum Inventory: A 2010 Snapshot – Canada, Industry Canada [PDF]

Canada’s digital television transition in 2011 moved broadcasters from regions of the 700 MHz spectrum previously occupied by television channels 52-69 using over-the-air distribution. The 700 MHz spectrum auction saw 84 MHz for commercial mobile providers. Additionally, spectrum in the Broadband Radio Services (BRS): 2500-2690 MHz band is scheduled for auction across Canada. (See: Policy and Technical Framework Mobile Broadband Services (MBS) – 700 MHz Band Broadband Radio Service (BRS) – 2500 MHz Band) The 700 MHz auction was conducted using Tier 2 licences; the BRS auction involves licences for Tiers 3 and 4.