Spectrum Sharing

Spectrum is one of Canada's vitally important public resources. It is the airwaves around us that carry all our wireless communications, whether it's for our mobile phones, radio and television programming, satellite transmissions or emergency communications between police, firefighters and ambulance services. It underpins all our modern communications, playing an important role in the lives of Canadians.

Spectrum is also a finite public resource and like other public resources – forests, water, and clean air – it is managed and protected by the Government to benefit all Canadians.

Up to now, most spectrum has been exclusively licensed to companies – such as mobile networks and TV broadcasters – like a lease on an office building. Like an office building where most offices are occupied only during business hours, some spectrum can be underused at certain times. As demand grows and the number of wireless devices increases exponentially, we need to find ways of sharing existing spectrum so that all mobile users have reliable service.

The Communications Research Centre (CRC), Canada's primary advanced communications research facility, is exploring how unused spectrum could be shared or re-assigned for mobile wireless use without interfering with existing users, through the use of artificial intelligence. By moving to a system where spectrum is assigned on an as-needed basis, the number of users that can be serviced with the same amount of spectrum could increase.

This is particularly important as the next generation of wireless technology comes on stream: 5G – the fifth generation of wireless – will essentially connect everything, from sensors to smartphones and vehicles, everywhere, at any time, further increasing the need for useable spectrum.

"Imagine owning a cellphone that is able to dynamically and transparently switch your network to the most cost-efficient choice for different applications," says Louise Lamont, a Program Manager with the CRC. "To view a video, your phone may connect to a higher-cost network which offers the best video streaming, while to send an email it may connect to a lower-cost network that your phone has discovered and that is currently unused in your area. Researchers at the CRC are working on dynamic spectrum sharing, which will allow users to take advantage of unused spectrum and enable more efficient use of spectrum."

A future where spectrum is assigned on-demand will not only help ensure that Canada can meet increased spectrum demands, but it will also open up new business opportunities for innovative applications that can operate as secondary users in a spectrum band.

Contact us to learn more about our research in spectrum sharing, and other Grand Challenges research projects and collaboration opportunities.