For the past two years, my wife and I have been isolating in rural Ontario with our broadband connectivity supplied by Xplornet fixed wireless, more than adequately powering our 2 computers, 2 smart phones, and 2 HD TVs.
My experience over this period confirms my belief that wireless should continue to be a viable component of Canada’s rural broadband strategy.
Worldwide, Ericsson estimates that 70% of service providers offer fixed wireless access services. Over the next 4 years, the company expects 5G technology to reach 70 million fixed broadband connections worldwide, representing 40% of total fixed wireless connections. Ericsson believes fixed wireless connections will drive about 25% of the world’s wireless data traffic.
By year end 2020, the CRTC reports 89.5% of Canadian households had access to the target broadband service objective of an unlimited plan with 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speeds. More than 99.5% of Canadians were covered by an LTE mobile connection. As Canada works to steadily close the broadband access gap for the remaining 10%, 5G fixed wireless is a promising technology to deliver highspeed connectivity.
Microwave backhaul is often seen as the best way to connect these rural 5G towers to the network, contributing to additional spectrum requirements.
All of this contributes to continued growth in spectrum requirements for service providers that are extending network connectivity, and such use needs to be incorporated into spectrum policy.
Keep in mind, a number of studies and reports have suggested that Canadian spectrum policy contributes to higher costs for wireless service providers. Last month, in “Improving outcomes from Canada’s spectrum policy”, I wrote “spectrum policy in Canada has seemed to singularly focus on stimulating mobile competition, without sufficient focus on other policy objectives”.
As ISED moves forward with determinations from its Consultation on a Policy and Licensing Framework for Spectrum in the 3800 MHz Band (and other consultations in the future), the Government needs to ensure that it considers the impact of spectrum policy on the economics of rural broadband connectivity. Section 14 of the Consultation was entitled “Measures to support Canada’s Connectivity Strategy”, seeking comment on issues including “potential measures or conditions of license that could accelerate Canada’s Connectivity Strategy’s target of 100% of the households covered with 50/10 Mbps within the timeframe of 2030.”
Fixed wireless, with 5G technology, is a promising solution to accelerate universal access to affordable broadband connectivity in Canada. It will be important to ensure there is adequate spectrum available, at a reasonable cost, for carriers offering residential broadband applications in underserved areas.