Skip to main content

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Nov. 3, 2020.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Ottawa is tripling the amount of airwaves available for WiFi use in response to Canadians’ growing appetites for data and an anticipated surge in the number of connected devices.

The federal government launched a consultation last November on its proposal to open up more licence-exempt mid-band spectrum in the 6 GHz range for WiFi. (Spectrum refers to the airwaves used to transmit wireless signals.)

On Wednesday, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada – the federal ministry that regulates spectrum in Canada – announced it will allot an additional 1,200 MHz for WiFi, effectively tripling the total amount of spectrum available, on an unlicensed basis, for WiFi use. The new allotment follows a similar move in the United States.

Ottawa looks to triple spectrum for WiFi use

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 set aside for public and unlicensed use, such as WiFi.

In recent years, the usage of unlicensed spectrum has increased significantly, the federal government said in its consultation. Canadians use WiFi routers and hot spots to connect to the internet, while wireless carriers rely on unlicensed spectrum to offload traffic from their mobile cellular networks.

The airwaves also support rural broadband and Internet of Things (IoT) devices ranging from smart watches to networks of industrial and agricultural sensors. Additional spectrum is needed to support these evolving technologies, Ottawa said in its consultation document.

“This decision will make staying connected easier for Canadians who rely on their WiFi for accessing school, work and health care from home,” François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, said in a statement.

The decision follows a similar one by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which recently opened up 1,200 MHz of bandwidth in the 6 GHz band for WiFi use.

The emergence of WiFi 6, considered the next generation of WiFi, was a key motivator for the move, according to Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman during the Trump administration. To fully utilize the benefits of the next-generation technology, more mid-band spectrum needs to be available for unlicensed use, Mr. Pai said in a statement last year.

Ottawa said in a statement last year that its proposal would align Canada with the U.S., “allowing for a common North American WiFi ecosystem.”

Wednesday’s announcement comes ahead of the June 15 auction for 3,500 MHz spectrum, a key band for the deployment of fifth-generation wireless technology. Analysts are expecting strong demand for the airwaves, with TD Securities analyst Vince Valentini predicting in a report that BCE Inc. , Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. will spend roughly $2.8-billion combined.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.