Government’s critical 3500MHz spectrum auction set to begin on June 15

The 3500MHz spectrum band is globally recognized as key for 5G networks

The federal government’s long-awaited critical 3500MHz spectrum auction is set to begin on June 15th at 10am ET.

The government notes that the 3500MHz auction is a significant milestone for 5G in Canada, as the spectrum is key for the deployment of the next generation of wireless technology across the country.

Twenty-three companies have qualified to participate in the auction. Participants include the Big Three (Rogers, Bell, Telus), Cogeco, TekSavvy, Videotron, Xplornet, Iristel, Bragg Communications, SaskTel and more.

Shaw Communications’ Freedom Mobile will not be participating in the auction, as it awaits regulatory approval for its deal with Rogers.

Bidding is expected to take several weeks. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has stated that it cannot comment on the status of bidding at any point during this period.

The government will announce the results of the auction and the licence winners within five
business days following the end of bidding.

Set-aside spectrum and auction requirements

The government is setting aside 50MHz in markets where enough spectrum is available. The set-aside will allow smaller competitors to acquire the spectrum they need in order to compete against national providers.

The set-aside spectrum will account for between a half to a third of the available spectrum in these regions. Companies that aren’t eligible for set-aside spectrum will not be permitted to acquire licences for set-aside spectrum made available through the auction for at least five to seven years.

Further, the government notes that in Canada, the 3500MHz band has been historically used to provide fixed wireless internet services, but it has been globally recognized as key for 5G networks as it provides coverage capacity for a wide array of new applications.

Due to this, 200MHz of spectrum available in the 3500MHz band will be made available for “flexible use” licensing. This will allow companies to choose the type of services they will deploy, such as mobile or fixed wireless services.

The government outlines that existing licensees are eligible to retain some spectrum and apply for new flexible-use licences in their service areas. The remainder of the 200MHz in the band will be made available in the auction.

Companies will have to adhere to coverage requirements during the auction to ensure that they use this spectrum in a timely manner. The 3500MHz auction imposes more requirements than previous licensing processes, such as the 600MHz auction in 2019, to ensure that the spectrum is put to use sooner in rural areas.

“A deployment requirement mandating the coverage of a certain percentage of the population will apply to all licensees in all markets,” the government notes.

“This deployment requirement necessitates that licensees expand their networks, throughout their licence term, to cover more of the population, bringing next-generation services to a greater number of people, faster.”

Further, companies with existing LTE networks are subject to strict coverage requirements within their current network footprints.

The auction was originally supposed to begin in December 2020 but was delayed by six months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

5G is expected to bring fast data speeds and low latency to mobile devices. It’s expected to enhance virtual and augmented reality, cloud computing, healthcare, agriculture and more.