The government of Canada is asking Canadians for their opinions on a policy and licensing framework for a class of high-frequency wireless signals called millimetre wave (mmWave), a foundational component in achieving the full potential of 5G cellular services.
The framework is required before the sale of licenses for that wireless spectrum. Canada released mmWave to support 5G in a decision published in June 2019.
In Canada, 5G mmWave describes radio signals in three frequencies: 26, 28 and 38GHz. They’re called mmWave because their wavelengths are under a centimetre.
The three specific frequency ranges are:
26GHz band: 26.5GHz – 27.5GHz
28GHz band: 24.5GHz – 28.35GHz
38GHz band: 37.6GHz to 40.0GHz
Currently, a handful of services operate on these bands, mostly fixed-satellite services and space research services. There are currently no licensed earth stations in the 26 and 38 GHz bands. There are 37 licensed earth stations in the 28 GHz band.
Some fixed satellite services operate on licenses obtained in 2017, which grants them access to certain bands for a minimum of 10 years. The consultation documents said that the expiry date aligns with the spectrum auctions, and Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED) will consider whether they will allow them to renew.
Everything you need to know about 5G
Once unlocked for 5G, services on mmWave are capable of reaching bandwidth on the gigabit scale, multitudes faster than even today’s 5G services on mid-band on the 3.5GHz spectrum. These services will retain low-latency characteristics, and the higher bandwidth will benefit not just consumer services, but also industrial applications like fixed wireless services, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and so on. By the time mmWave is deployed, 5G will be enhanced with capabilities such as massive machine-to-machine communications and network slicing.
In addition to ground-level services, ISED noted that satellites can also use mmWave band to provide better services. Despite Canada’s growing fibre optic network, satellites remain a critical component in servicing certain rural and remote regions where landlines aren’t feasible.
An issue, however, is range and penetration. High-frequency radio signals have trouble penetrating solid objects. They also need more towers closer to the end device to reach optimal performance. This is why 5G services need frequencies at all ranges to be viable: low-band for range and coverage, mid-band for a mixture of capacity and coverage, and high-band/mmWave for high throughput and capacity.
The motivation for reaching into higher frequencies is higher bandwidth availability and higher performance. Because of the congestion in the current signal space under 6GHz, the frequency bands for mmWave remain largely untapped for telecommunication. Less competition means larger swaths of the bandwidth can be made available for carrier services and in turn, provide better performance.
Canada isn’t alone in developing mmWave for 5G. Almost all nations dabbling in 5G technologies are working to free up spectrum in higher frequencies. Given the interest, Canada has designated mmWave as a Priority 1 in the Spectrum Outlook.
This is still looking towards the future, however, as Canada has yet to deploy 5G services on mid-band frequencies. Telecommunication equipment makers are also still working on developing hardware that supports all three bands. Most current hardware can only support one frequency in the mmWave range.
Subsequent to the framework consultation, the Canadian government will work on developing the auction framework for mmWave.
Auction for these bands won’t happen for a while, but expect the service providers to be as fervent as they were in any other spectrum auction. The government is seeking comments around a cost structure for licenses as a part of the consultation.
All comments can be filed in electronic format to ISED before Sept. 6, 2022. Refer to the consultation for specific submission criteria.