Federal government drops surprise restrictions on 5G service near airports

Unsurprisingly, carriers are pissed

Canadians living near airports may have a hard time getting 5G service thanks to a surprise announcement from the federal government.

The feds announced new restrictions on 5G service near most major airports over concerns of possible interference between the radio waves — called spectrum — used in 5G communications and certain aviation navigation tools. According to the Toronto Star, radio altimeters on aircraft operate on the 4,200 to 4,400 megahertz (MHz) frequency band, which is near the recently-auctioned 3,500MHz spectrum considered crucial to mid-band (or Sub-6) 5G.

Using Toronto’s Pearson Airport as an example, the restrictions banning 5G base stations cover a large area around the runways themselves. Moreover, restrictions covering two long stretches from Etobicoke to Brampton and from Downsview to Mississauga will limit power use, which can affect network performance. A map from the Star shows the restricted areas.

Restriction 5G areas around Pearson (Source: Toronto Star)

The Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) said on August 6th that it would hold a brief consultation before applying the restrictions around airports where planes are permitted to use automated landing.

The Star also detailed comments from carriers that are, unsurprisingly, upset about the restrictions. Telus was among the most vocal and claimed the restrictions reduced the $2 billion value of 3,500MHz spectrum it acquired at the recent auction by about $100 million. Telus also claims the government’s restrictions are more drastic than precautions taken in other countries.

For example, U.S. regulators determined a guard band of 220MHz would be “sufficient” to protect aviation industry needs. Further, Telus claims Australia and Japan implemented guard zones of 200MHz and 100MHz respectively. The Canadian government, however, proposed a buffer zone between 550MHz and 700MHz.

In an email statement to the Star, ISED says it issued a bulletin in March, well before the spectrum auction, committing to study the issue. The bulletin also warned that the government may develop rules for 5G operation in the new spectrum band.

Although the carriers may gripe about the limitations, Canadians living in regions covered by the new restrictions will also lose out, especially if they’ve already upgraded to a new 5G-capable device in anticipation of the 3,500MHz rollout.

Source: Toronto Star