Mainstream launch of 5G expected in Canada in 2021

Canadians can anticipate a fast roll-out of 5G mobile networks starting in 2021, according to an industry expert.

The fifth-generation of wireless technology, or 5G for short, will deliver ten times faster connections speeds, lower latency and the ability to connect more devices than ever before.

It will pave the way for a range of exciting new uses, said Bernard Bureau, TELUS VP of Network & Architecture Strategy. “The technology has the potential to have a profound impact on citizens, our businesses and the economy,” he said.

The United States is the leading the way, with the recent launch by Verizon of the first 5G mobile phone. Things will get underway in Canada in 2020 in a limited way, and pick up steam in the following year, said Bureau.

How will 5G be used?

Unlike previous generations, 5G was developed with a view to solving issues, rather than as a technical exercise, said Bureau. The use cases envisioned by the International Telecommunication Union fall into three main categories.

The first, known as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), is a faster, more responsive version of today’s smart phones. “It will open the door for new applications, like virtual reality (VR),” said Bureau. The biggest hurdle for VR now is cost, he said. With 5G, the expensive gear can go in the cloud and be used on a pay-per-use basis.

When it comes to VR, think beyond gaming and entertainment, said Bureau. “Imagine a firefighter enters a building with a camera on his vest, while a person outside, who is familiar with the building, guides him through.”

The second use case, called massive machine type communication (mMTC), will allow one million devices per square kilometre to be connected. “The goal is to connect everything and collect information, so we can leverage analytics and optimize everything around us,” said Bureau.

This will be very useful in sectors that use sensors for monitoring, such as eHealth, transport and logistics, smart energy networks, agriculture and retail.

Thirdly, the biggest impact of 5G could happen when mission critical devices, such as autonomous vehicles and drones, are connected, said Bureau. This is referred to as “ultra-reliable and low latency communications (uRLLC)” because the error rate is reduced by a factor of one-thousand and latency is ten times lower. “When the network is sending instructions to a car to avoid an accident, every thousandth of a second is critical,” Bureau said. This will also help manufacturing and energy companies increase efficiencies through automation and remote control.

The quality of the experience for consumers and enterprises will be further enhanced through a technique called slicing. This allows portions of the network to be carved out to support the intended use, whether it is in the best effort or ultra-reliable category.

How do we get there from here?

Spectrum is vital to the deployment of 5G in Canada, said Bureau. Canadian wireless companies recently spent $3.5 billion at an auction for the 600 megahertz band of frequencies, which can cover large areas and easily penetrate buildings. Two more auctions for higher frequency spectrum will be held over two years.

As well, the carriers need to build out the small cells or antennae that will send data over the radio waves. While the higher bands are faster, they don’t carry the information very far, so many more cells have to be set up.

Bureau is optimistic that it will get done. “Canada is now the second fastest country in the world in mobile networks,” he said. “I expect this excellence to carry over.”

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker has over 20 years of experience in IT-related fields in the public and private sectors, as a lawyer and strategic advisor. She is a former broadcast journalist, currently working as a consultant, freelance writer and editor.

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