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This article was published 9/10/2021 (229 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you recently bought an expensive 5G-ready smartphone but live near an airport you might be out of luck.
Much to the surprise of the telecom industry, the federal government recently announced plans for new restrictions on 5G service near most major airports that could deprive thousands of a true 5G experience.
Canada’s telecoms spent $9 billion acquiring 5G spectrum licences in July, and Telus Corp. says the restrictions, which were announced only two weeks after the auction wrapped up, could reduce the value of its $2-billion purchase by $100 million.
“Telus was very surprised when it learned, only one week after making a multibillion-dollar commitment, that the proposed technical changes would impair a significant amount of the spectrum it won at auction,” the company said in a Sept. 2 comment filed with the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED).
In a separate filing, Telus said it, “and the mobile industry as a whole,” was “taken aback” by the implications of the policy.
The government said it is introducing the restrictions because there are concerns about possible interference between those airwaves — which are known as spectrum and carry wireless communications signals — and certain aviation navigation tools.
ISED, which also conducted the spectrum auction, said on Aug. 6 that it would hold a brief consultation and then put new restrictions in place that will apply to airports where automated landing is permitted.
But Telus claims the restrictions are more drastic than precautions taken in other countries.
In the case of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, the restrictions will cover a broad area surrounding the runways themselves — where no 5G base stations will be permitted — plus two long stretches from Etobicoke to Brampton and another two from Downsview to Mississauga. In the longer stretches, there will be limits on power use, which can affect network performance.
ISED said the restrictions are needed because there is a possibility that radio signals from 5G equipment on the new spectrum frequency could interfere with the operation of altimeters, which are used in automatic flight guidance systems.
5G technology is expected to offer faster download speeds and carry more data as well as connect a wide range of devices from autonomous cars to smart-city sensors.
Telus said the restrictions will hurt cellphone users who live near airports and want to get 5G service and impede the development of new technologies at the warehouses, manufacturing plants and hotels that often surround airports.
“(The proposed restrictions) will hamper the ability of wireless carriers to deliver of the promise of 5G connectivity to these industries,” Telus said.
Canada’s Big Three wireless companies, Telus, BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., started deploying early versions of 5G service in some cities last year.
But 5G technology will use a mix of different frequencies and the airwaves purchased in the recent auction — which are in the 3,500-megahertz frequency range — are seen as crucial to improving the service and extending coverage.
Many leading wireless companies around the world have used this type of spectrum for 5G service and equipment manufacturers make network gear designed for it.
Radio altimeters on aircraft operate in the nearby 4,200- to 4,400-MHz frequency band.
In an emailed statement, ISED spokesperson Sean Benmor told the Star that spectrum regulators around the world have been evaluating studies that show “possible interference from flexible use 5G operations in the 3,500-MHz band.”
“Some countries, such as France and Japan, have already implemented mitigation measures while others are studying the issue,” Benmor said. He added that ISED published a bulletin in March — several months before the spectrum auction — committing to study the issue and warning that rules for 5G operation in the new spectrum band may be developed.
Telus maintains it was not prepared for the limits the government has now proposed and said other countries have decided on smaller “guard zones” between the frequency where altimeters operate and the frequency where 5G services are allowed.
It said U.S. regulators determined that a guard band of 220 MHz “would be sufficient to protect the needs of the aviation industry” while Canada is proposing a buffer of between 550 MHz and 700 MHz.
Telus said the guard zones in Australia and Japan are 200 MHz and 100 MHz, respectively.
Telus did not comment beyond its formal comments on the consultation and Bell and Rogers declined to comment ahead of an Oct. 15 deadline to file additional submissions with ISED. The government initially requested comments by Aug. 23 but moved that date back after receiving several requests for more time.
“The measures may impact deployment plans for outdoor 5G operation in the 3500-MHz band around some airports, but locations outside airport zones should not be significantly affected,” ISED’s Benmor said. “Indoor deployments near those runways would also not be affected.”
He added that the government will continue to study the issue and could modify or relax the measures “well within the 20-year term of ISED’s 3,500-MHz licences.”
Use this interactive map to see if you live near one of the airports where 5G service will be restricted (select “Both Zones” from the drop down menu): https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/eng/sf11726.html
Christine Dobby is a Toronto-based business reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @christinedobby