New spectrum licenses in the 3.5GHz mid-band will supercharge Canada’s 5G services

via Flickr © ankakay (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © ankakay (CC BY 2.0)

  • 1,495 out of 1,504 available 5G spectrum licences awarded to 15 Canadian companies
  • Of which 757 went to small and regional providers across the enormous country
  • New Opensignal report shows Rogers Communications is the lead 5G provider
  • But 4G will continue to be a continuing tried, tested and trusted technology for years to come

It makes a refreshing change to be able to report on a North American 5G market that for once is not the US, the place from where so very many different papers, opinions and analyses constantly emanate. This time the spotlight is on Canada and the August 2021 Canadian 5G Experience Report from research house Opensignal which shows that Toronto, Ontario-headquartered telco Rogers Communications Inc. currently leads the emergent 5G pack. Of Canada’s three national carriers Rogers has the greatest 5G availability and geographical coverage. The telco also provides the best 5G voice app and the best games experience.

Indeed, Rogers did so well in the Opensignal analysis that it was named outright winner of four of the seven categories of 5G experience covered in the report - and also achieved a joint first place in a three-way tie in the 5G Upload Speed Experience category. Overall, Bell, Rogers and Telus, the so-called Big Three national operators of Canadian telecoms, provide the fastest 5G download speeds in the country. Opensignal found Bell’s average 5G download speed to be 174.8Mbps while the Telus average was 168.4Mbps. Those speeds are (Bell) 63.2 Mbps and and (Telus) 69.7Mbps faster than those provided on the Rogers network. What’s more, the average 5G download speed provided by Bell and Telus increased respectively by 8.6 Mbps and 2.8 Mbps over the course of the 12 weeks since the last Opensignal report. 

In July, Canada successfully completed a 5G spectrum auction in the important 3.5 GHz mid-band, which offered a total of 200 MHz of new capacity, including 50 MHz specifically set aside for smaller players. In total, 1,495 out of 1,504 available licences were awarded to 15 Canadian companies, including 757 licences to small and regional providers across the country. In all of the 172 service areas, there is now at least one small or regional provider with spectrum over which new services will be deployed. Together, these providers have increased their total mobile spectrum holdings by over 50 per cent and in so doing have considerably strengthened their ability to offer competitive services. 

The auction raised a total of C$8.91 billion (US$7.2 billion) in winning bids, with Bell, Rogers and Telus getting 80 per cent of what was available. Rogers spent the most, ponying-up C$3.33 billion for 325 licenses which covers 169 out of the 172 regions. 

Montreal, Quebec-headquartered Bell Canada was the second-highest bidder, spending C$2.07 billion on 271 licenses while Telus, whose head office is in Vancouver, British Colombia, coughed-up C$1.95 billion on 142 licenses. For obvious reasons, Shaw, the Calgary, Alberta-based telco that is merging with Rogers, did not participate in the auction. Among other, lesser players with big 5G ambitions, Videotron (also of Montreal) and Xplornet, the rural ISP, mobile network operator and Canada’s biggest fixed wireless broadband provider, which is headquartered way out east in Woodstock, New Brunswick, close to the border with Maine in the US, secured most of the remaining licenses on offer.

A toast to exuberant 5G, and also to the steadfastness of 4G

Raising a bubbling glass to the successful (and lucrative) auction, François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, commented,  “The 3500 MHz auction is a key step in our government’s plan to promote competition in the telecom sector, improve rural connectivity, and ensure Canadians benefit from 5G technologies and services. As intended, small and regional providers have gained access to significantly more spectrum, meaning that Canadians can expect better wireless services at more competitive prices, which has never been more important for working, online learning and staying connected with loved ones.”

The availability of 3.5 GHz spectrum for 5G in Canada should help the country’s carriers to roll-out the technology more quickly. In the past, Canadian carriers were somewhat starved of usable 5G spectrum and so had to deploy it in lower bands, which made for a constrained 5G experience for subscribers. Things for 5G will now quickly improve as the newly acquired bandwidth will be in commercial use within a matter of a few months.

But let’s not forget 4G. 5G is very much the comms technology glamourpuss de nos jours, but it wasn’t so long ago that 4G LTE was the industry pin-up. That technology may no longer be the sexy new item on the block, but it is maturing into a thing of beauty and a joy, if not quite forever, then certainly for a long time to come. 4G has a vital, continuing role to play as 5G gets all the attention. Why? Because, and probably for years, consumers will spend most of their time connected to a 4G network, accessing and dipping into 5G in places where it is available in city centres and densely populated suburban areas but relying on the reach and availability of 4G just about everywhere else. 

And also let us remember that despite increasingly erratic and strident attempts by 5G operators the world over to find and promote a compelling residential subscriber 5G user case, it remains as elusive as those mysterious Canadian creatures the Ogopogo lake monster, the Sasquatch, the Akhlut and the Loup Garou. 

There is mounting evidence across a myriad of potential 5G markets that domestic consumers are very wary indeed about paying premium prices for an unknown quantity and may well not subscribe to 5G until they are satisfied it is worth the candle - and that may not be for quite some time. To speed take-up the operators who have been, and still are, spending huge sums on deploying the technology and want to begin to see a return on their investments, will have to provide unequivocal proof that 5G will be as important and beneficial in the setting of a family home setting as it is in an enterprise environment.

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