Low-power Licence-exempt Radiocommunication Devices — Frequently Asked Questions


Do you use cordless telephones, baby monitors, family radio service (FRS) walkie-talkies, remote garage door openers, or wireless local area networks (sometimes referred to as wireless LANs or Wi-Fi devices)? If so, you are among a growing number of consumers who use a special category of radio equipment, referred to by Industry Canada, as low-power licence-exempt radiocommunication devices. Regardless of the wireless device in question, it is important to know if the equipment you own or intend to buy is permitted for use in Canada.

The requirement to obtain a radio licence depends mainly upon the type of radio equipment being used. Special regulatory provisions permit the use of certain radio devices without the need for a radio licence in Canada, and the popularity of these devices, especially those designed to operate within the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) and 5.8 GHz frequency bands, has increased dramatically.

Consumers and businesses alike prefer the convenience and low cost of licence-exempt radio devices, and Industry Canada recognizes their benefit to Canadians. Industry Canada strives to provide a radio environment in which both licensed and licence-exempt radio devices can operate harmoniously, and therefore it is important for consumers to understand the benefits and limitations of licence-exempt radio equipment in order to make informed purchasing decisions.

The objective of this document is to provide answers to a few of the more commonly asked questions regarding licence-exempt radio devices. Complete titles of all documents referred to are provided in the Relevant Documents and Links section.


Regulation and Use in Canada


Options for Licensing

Equipment Certification for Use in Canada


1. What does the term "licence-exempt" mean?

The Radiocommunication Act gives Industry Canada the authority to regulate radiocommunications in Canada. Under the Act, the use of most radiocommunication devices requires that a radio authorization, typically a licence, first be obtained from Industry Canada. In contrast, licence-exempt radio devices are an exception to this requirement, and Industry Canada has established special provisions which allow for the purchase and use of licence-exempt radio devices that operate within specially designated frequency bands.

In addition to applicable licensing requirements, all radiocommunication devices must also comply with appropriate Industry Canada policies, regulations and technical standards before they can be imported, sold or used in Canada. The process whereby radio equipment manufacturers demonstrate compliance with Industry Canada technical standards is referred to as certification.

It should be noted that although a radio device may not require a licence for use in Canada, this same device may not be licence-exempted for use in other countries. For this reason, those planning to use licence-exempt radio devices outside of Canada must respect foreign radiocommunication licensing and operational requirements.

What are the main differences between licensed and licence-exempt radio devices?

Generally, users of radio devices that require a licence must first provide Industry Canada with detailed technical information, undergo a thorough interference and operational assessment, and pay an annual licence fee. Along with other information, a resulting radio station licence specifies the station's transmitting and receiving frequencies, operating parameters (i.e. transmitter power) and the station's location and/or area of operation.

Conversely, licence-exempt radio equipment users are not required to pay annual licence fees; do not have to provide any technical information; and can operate anywhere in Canada provided that only specially designated frequency bands are used and other applicable regulatory and technical standards are met.

Although it may seem advantageous to not require a radio licence, users of licence-exempt radio devices can face other difficulties. The most common problem encountered is radio interference, often resulting from other licensed or licence-exempt radio users operating within the same general area. Consequences can range from reduced radio equipment performance to complete system failure.

It should be understood that, unlike licensed radio systems that are provided some assurance of interference-free operation by Industry Canada, licence-exempt radio devices operate on a strict "no-interference, no-protection" basis in relation to all other radio systems. This means that licence-exempt radio devices are neither permitted to cause interference, nor can they claim protection from any that they may receive. It is for this reason that Industry Canada will not normally investigate reports of radio interference affecting licence-exempt radio devices. See What happens if my licence-exempt radio device receives interference?

3. Aren't all low-power radio devices automatically licence-exempt?

No. Although licence-exempt radio devices generally transmit signals at low-power levels, the power level alone does not determine if a licence from Industry Canada is required. By law, licence exemptions only apply to radio equipment that has been tested and certified to comply with specific technical standards, and operates in specially designated frequency bands. Such restrictions are necessary to ensure equitable access to limited radio frequency spectrum by all radio users, as well as to ensure the orderly development of radiocommunications in Canada.

Technical standards relevant to most licence-exempt radio devices can be found in either RSS-210, or RSS-310.

Regulation and Use in Canada

4. How are licence-exempt radio devices regulated for use in Canada?

According to the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication Regulations, licence-exempt radio devices are only exempted from the requirement to have a radio licence. All other aspects and sections of the Act and the Regulations still apply. As a result, licence-exempt radio devices must still comply with the relevant technical standards outlined in RSS-210 and RSS-310, as well as other regulatory requirements. For more information, see How is licence-exempt radio equipment authorized and approved for use in Canada?

5. What else do I need to know when using licence-exempt radio devices?

It is important for current and prospective licence-exempt radio device users to be aware that although a radio licence may not be required, only those devices that comply with applicable technical standards, operational and regulatory requirements are permitted for sale and use in Canada. Devices manufactured for licence-exempt use in other countries often do not meet Canadian regulatory or technical standards and may, in fact, cause or receive radio interference.

Licence-exempt devices must also comply with Industry Canada's radio frequency exposure compliance standard RSS-102. For the purpose of regulating exposure to radio frequency fields, Industry Canada has adopted Health Canada's Safety Code 6.

Licence-exempt radio systems using antenna supporting structures may also be subject to other Industry Canada procedures, including CPC 2-0-03 and CPC 2-0-02.

Industry Canada sets the technical standards and specifications for all licence-exempt radio devices to be used in Canada, and can offer advice on the interpretation of these requirements. The Department can also provide information and discuss alternatives should you wish to establish a licensed radio system. For advice and information, please contact your nearest Industry Canada district office.

6. Can I bring purchased licence-exempt radio devices from other countries into Canada?

Although licence-exempt radio devices sold in other countries often have similar technical parameters, they may not meet applicable Industry Canada regulatory requirements. For this reason, it is illegal for consumers to import radio devices into Canada that do not bear a label with an Industry Canada certification/registration number. Please see RSP-100 for more information.

In addition, importers of radiocommunication equipment should be aware that other federal regulatory requirements may apply. For more information regarding radio equipment importation requirements, please consult the Canadian Border Services Agency.


7. What happens if my licence-exempt radio device causes interference?

Licence-exempt radio devices generally emit very low-power radio signals, and as such do not normally affect other radio services. In addition, Industry Canada has established technical standards to minimize the potential for interference between radio services. Regardless, licence-exempt radio devices are required to operate on a no-interference, no-protection basis in relation to other radio services in Canada, meaning that they can neither cause radio interference, nor claim protection from it.

Industry Canada considers licensed radio systems to have priority over all licence-exempt radio operations. Should a licence-exempt radio device cause interference to a licensed radio system, the licence-exempt radio user may be required to cease operation or have their equipment professionally modified and re-certified to ensure that it will no longer cause interference.

In the case of interference between licence-exempt radio users, it should be noted that such devices are frequently designed to share specially designated frequency bands in Canada, and therefore no one user has priority over another. For this reason, goodwill and a spirit of mutual cooperation is encouraged to resolve such interference problems. It should also be noted that even despite these efforts, effective solutions may not always be found as licence-exempt radio devices can vary greatly in usage and technical sophistication.

8. What happens if my licence-exempt radio device receives interference?

Licence-exempt radio devices are typically designed to function within specially designated shared frequency bands, and Industry Canada develops technical standards to minimize the potential for interference. However, interference to licence-exempt radio devices may occur from various sources, including non-communication devices that operate within the same frequency band. The effects of radio interference can range from degraded equipment performance to complete system failure.

Since licence-exempt radio devices are authorized on a no-interference, no-protection basis, Industry Canada will not normally intervene if these devices should receive interference.

Before seeking external sources of interference, affected users are advised to first ensure that their own licence-exempt radio devices continue to meet applicable Industry Canada technical standards. Often interference can occur if the licensed-exempt device has been damaged or technically modified.

Should it be determined that interference is being caused by another licence-exempt radio device, both parties are encouraged to arrive at an amicable solution. If, however, a licensed radio system is considered to be the likely source, affected licence-exempt radio users can locate existing licensees by searching Industry Canada's Spectrum Direct website. Remember that licensed systems have priority over licence-exempt systems. (See What happens if my licence-exempt radio device causes interference?)

9. How can I find out if there are licensed radio users in my area?

Industry Canada's Spectrum Direct website provides information on licensed, site-specific radio systems in Canada. From the homepage, under the heading Radio Frequency Search, select Geographical Area. The geographical search option is based on site co-ordinates (latitude and longitude), and will provide information on site-specific licensed radio systems operating within a specified radius. Please note that the Spectrum Direct website does not provide search information for licence-exempt radio systems, or for Personal Communications Services (PCS), cellular or other auctioned-spectrum licensees.

Options for Licensing

10. I currently operate a wireless local area network. What are my options if I want to change frequency bands or even get a radio licence?

The options available to you depend upon your specific radiocommunications needs and whether you wish to continue using licence-exempt radio equipment. For advice and information, please contact your nearest Industry Canada district office.

Equipment Certification for Use in Canada

11. What legislation governs the manufacture, importation, distribution, lease, sale and use of radio equipment in Canada?

The Radiocommunication Act requires that anyone wishing to manufacture, import, distribute, lease, sell or use radio equipment in Canada must ensure that devices are tested and certified to meet applicable technical standards. This requirement also applies to licence-exempt radiocommunication devices, whether locally manufactured or imported for use in Canada.

12. How is licence-exempt radio equipment authorized and approved for use in Canada?

The Radiocommunication Act provides Industry Canada with the authority to regulate radiocommunication in Canada, which includes authorizing the use of radio devices. Under the Act, most radiocommunication devices require a user-specific radio authorization or licence before they can be used in Canada. In contrast, licence-exempt radio devices are exempted from this requirement.

All licence-exempt radio equipment must meet specific Industry Canada regulatory requirements and technical standards before it can be imported, sold or used in Canada. The process whereby equipment manufacturers demonstrate compliance with Industry Canada's technical Standards is referred to as certification.

Industry Canada's Certification and Engineering Bureau provides up-to-date information on all radiocommunication equipment certified for use in Canada. Certification information for specific types of radio devices can be obtained directly by reviewing Industry Canada's Radio Equipment List (REL) database or by contacting the Bureau.

13. How do I know if licence-exempt radio equipment is approved for use in Canada?

Before a licence-exempt radio device can be sold in Canada, manufacturers must demonstrate to the Department that the device meets applicable technical and regulatory requirements. Once a radio device has been approved for use in Canada, Industry Canada will provide the manufacturer with a certification/registration number. All radio devices approved for use in Canada will bear a label noting Industry Canada's certification/registration number. If the radio device is not labeled with an Industry Canada certification/registration number, it is not approved for use in Canada.

14. Where can I find more information on technical standards for low-power licence-exempt radio devices?

The following documents provide additional information on Industry Canada's regulatory and technical requirements for low-power licence-exempt radiocommunication devices.

RSS-Gen sets out general requirements and provides information for the certification of radiocommunication equipment in Canada.

RSS-210 and RSS-310 describe the technical requirements applicable to most licence-exempt radio devices in Canada. Information on technical standards for other licence-exempt radio devices is also available from the Licence-exempt Radio Apparatus Standards List.

Information concerning Industry Canada's radio equipment certification process is available in RSP-100.

Specific enquiries concerning radio equipment certification can also be directed to: 

Chief, Certification and Engineering Bureau
Industry Canada
3701 Carling Avenue (Building 94)
P.O. Box 11490, Station H
Ottawa, Ontario K2H 8S2
Telephone: 613-990-4218
Fax: 613-990-5009
email: ic.certificationbureau-bureauhomologation.ic@canada.ca

Relevant Documents and Links