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Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains speaks during a news conference on Nov. 17, 2020 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Ottawa is looking to triple the amount of spectrum – the airwaves used to transmit wireless signals – available for WiFi use as Canadians’ appetites for data grow.

The federal government is launching a consultation on a new proposal to open up more licence-exempt midband spectrum in the 6 GHz range for WiFi.

Spectrum is typically licensed to certain users, such as individual companies, who pay a fee for the exclusive right to use it. Some amount of spectrum is typically set aside for public and unlicensed use, such as WiFi.

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Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains made the announcement at the virtual Canadian Telecom Summit on Thursday.

“With more of that type of spectrum available, rural internet service providers will have more resources to provide broadband services in their areas,” Mr. Bains said.

“But these changes would not just benefit rural Canadians. More spectrum for WiFi means Canadians living in densely populated cities can expect a higher-quality connection,” he added.

The decision follows a similar move in the United States, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently opened up 1,200MHz of bandwidth in the 6 GHz band for WiFi use.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said that the emergence of WiFi 6 was a key motivator for the decision. To fully utilize the benefits of the next generation of WiFi technology, more midband spectrum needs to be available for unlicensed use, Mr. Pai said in a statement earlier this year.

Ottawa said in a statement that its proposal would “align Canada with the United States’ recent decision on the 6 GHz band, allowing for a common North American WiFi ecosystem.”

Gregory Taylor, a spectrum expert and associate professor at the University of Calgary, called the announcement a welcome move.

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“It means much more data traffic can be moved via WiFi,” Mr. Taylor said in an e-mail. “It keeps options open. Licence-exempt spectrum opens possibilities and prevents exclusive use.”

The federal government is also preparing for its coming auction for 3,500 MHz spectrum, a key band for the deployment of fifth-generation wireless technology, which is slated to begin on June 15, 2021.

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