Innovation Minister wants level playing field in 3500MHz auction, telecom operators respond

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains says changes to the 3500MHz auction are meant to create “a level playing field” and reiterates that “rural communities will not be impacted.”

Bains announced changes to the 3500MHz auction on June 5th. The auction is scheduled to take place in 2020.

Bains said the government is having consultations, which will include discussions on rules regarding existing holders of the band to be able to participate in the auction.

“This will be part of the consultation process that will determine the rules, but that’s clearly the intention, the auction is open to everyone,” said Bains.

Currently, Bell and Rogers hold 76 percent of the spectrum in the band through a partnership called Inukshuk.

Senior ISED officials said current licence holders will have a transition plan and that they will be able to keep using the spectrum until an auction winner intends to deploy 5G in the area.

ISED officials noted that the two holders will have to apply for the use of 60MHz of the 3500MHz once the auction is over. In areas where more than 60MHz is being used, the holder will only be able to apply up to the cap.

It might be worth noting that ISED intends to auction off 200MHz of the 3500MHz (3475MHz-3650MHz). Those applying for retaining part of their spectrum will come out of 200MHz.

David Watt, senior vice-president of regulatory at Rogers, said in a statement to MobileSyrup that the carrier “will continue to put our fixed-wireless 3500MHz spectrum to use for our customers as we prepare for next year’s auction to bring together 3500MHz.”

Rogers will retain 30MHz in each of the top 10 service areas by population.

Bell said the following in a statement to MobileSyrup: “We’re studying the decisions in detail and look forward to participating in the 3500MHz auction to enable our 5G rollout plan.”

Xplornet will ‘continue to fight’ to help rural Canadians

One of the other holders of the 3500MHz band includes rural broadband provider Xplornet.

The company has previously said it is extremely concerned that by having the existing band re-auctioned off, it may be difficult deploying services to its more than 350,000 customers.

James Maunder, vice-president of public affairs and communications at Xplornet, said in an email that the carrier was going to carefully review the decision “in each area of the country, and how it may impact our ability to provide service to our customers.”

“The 3500MHz band is the primary spectrum Xplornet uses to provide services to our customers. We will continue to fight to keep rural Canadians connected,” he said.

Bains said that the revisions are intended to make sure that “people continue to get the services that they need while at the same time making sure there is a level playing field.”

With respect to that ‘level playing field,’ Bains explains that it is specific to when carriers begin to roll out 5G.

“The idea of a level playing field is that people are currently using 3500MHz to provide services and will continue to do so, but deploying 5G will not occur until after the auction and so, therefore, it’s a level playing field with regards to the deployment of 5G,” he said.

The 3500MHz spectrum band is used for fix-wireless use, the Globe and Mail explained that this is typically used by telecom operators and would “deliver internet service using communications towers and wireless signals.”

The band is more often used in rural and remote parts of the country in areas where wired internet services are not deployed.

By auctioning off part of the 3500MHz, the intention of the band will also be used for mobile services. The Globe and Mail explained that this will be valuable for bigger carriers trying to serve more populated areas.

The band is also valuable for deploying 5G networks.

In general, 5G operates over traditional and new cell radio frequency bands that include the low- (sub-1GHz such as 700MHz), mid- (1.6GHz, around 3.5-3.8GHz), and millimetre-wave (mmWave, such as 28GHz) ranges.

Telus doesn’t have 3500MHz, welcomes opportunity to partcipate

Vancouver-based national carrier Telus currently does not hold any of the existing 3500MHz spectrum.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the carrier said it welcomed the minister’s announcement.

“We are pleased that ISED is holding an open consultation with respect to competitive measures in the 3500 MHz band and hope that their decisions will ensure that all Canadians have equal access to this spectrum which is key to future 5G technology,” the spokesperson said.

“Given the significance of the 3500 MHz spectrum band to the future connectivity and competitiveness of Canadians, we look forward to participating in ISED’s consultation process.”

Bains reiterated that the process ISED has put in place ensures that no provider has a leg up in the game and that everyone has an equal opportunity.

“We want Canada to continue to play a global leadership role when it comes to the deployment and rollout of 5G,” Bains said. “[The new revisions] will create a level playing field when 5G deploys, so no company will have an advantage over another.”

Bains also announced that there will be 7GHz of millimetre wave spectrum available for licence-exempt use this year and another 4.85GHz for licensed use in 2021.

He also announced that Canada will auction off spectrum in the 3800MHz band in 2022.