Spectrum and the Indigenous Priority Window

Overview

Please note:

Priority access to spectrum licences for Indigenous applicants


Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) is committed to:

  • improving Indigenous access to spectrum
  • supporting Indigenous-led connectivity solutions

This is why we are initiating an engagement process to seek input on a new draft spectrum policy framework called the Indigenous Priority Window (IPW).

A number of Indigenous partners have identified an IPW as a mechanism that could enable Indigenous applicants to obtain spectrum licences in a particular spectrum band, on a first-come, first-served basis. These spectrum licences can be used to enable wireless solutions, such as the provision of cell phone or wireless home Internet services, or to provide connectivity in mines, farms, or other cases.

Development of the IPW will include in-person and virtual engagement sessions. Through these sessions, we want to collaborate with interested Indigenous Peoples, communities, service providers, businesses and organizations to inform the final IPW Spectrum Policy Framework.

To support the initiative, we have developed this website, where you can:


What is Spectrum?

Please note:

Radio frequency spectrum and its impact


Radio frequency spectrum is the range of invisible frequencies that travel through the air and connect us in a wireless world. Every minute of every day, billions of people worldwide use radio frequency spectrum to stream music, call loved ones, connect to the Internet, and much more.

The radio frequency spectrum, often referred to simply as “spectrum,” is what makes all wireless communications possible. It is the backbone of the digital economy at the heart of Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure. Spectrum is also critical to technologies used in many important industries including healthcare, aviation and energy.

Animated video: What is spectrum?

Spectrum is characterized according to the frequency, and is measured in hertz (Hz). The frequency of a signal where one wave passes a fixed point in one second is one hertz. A kilohertz (kHz) represents 1000 hertz. One megahertz (MHz) is 1000 kHz and one gigahertz (GHz) is 1000 MHz.


How is spectrum used today?

Spectrum has radically transformed the way we live, work and communicate. For example, we use spectrum for:

  • connecting to the Internet
  • over-the-air TV
  • voice and data services on a cell phone
  • monitoring health
  • GPS and geographic tracking
  • forecasting and tracking weather
  • baby monitors and garage door openers
  • air traffic control communication to and from airplanes
  • emergency communications (ambulance, police, firefighters)
  • radio broadcasting (music, news)
  • amateur radio networks
 

Figure 1

Description of figure 1
Spectrum
Source Approximate frequency
Power Line 60 hertz
Radio 1 megahertz
Tag reader 14 megahertz
Television 50 megahertz
Mobile phone 700 megahertz
Smart meter 900 megahertz
Baby monitor 900 megahertz
Microwave 2.4 gigahertz
Wi-Fi 5 gigahertz
Remote control 100 terahertz
Tanning bed 10 petahertz
X-rays 1 exahertz
Gamma rays 1 zettahertz
 
 

Types of spectrum bands

Spectrum is generally divided into three ranges with low, mid and high frequencies. Each range of frequencies is known as a band, and is measured in Hertz. Let’s explore what those are below.

Figure 2

Description of figure 2

This figure shows the division of spectrum into low-, mid- and high-band frequencies. Low-band is under 1 GHz, mid-band is over 1 GHz and up to 10 GHz, and high-band (mmWave) is over 10 GHz.

 

Low-band frequencies

Low-band frequencies are those under 1 GHz. A low-band radio signal travels the farthest of the three bands. It can travel distances of approximately 10 km or more. Low-band frequencies can pass through walls and buildings, making it possible to bring outdoor signals indoors. Due to its ability to cover larger geographic areas and pass through buildings effectively, low-band spectrum is well suited to support rural broadband connectivity.

An example of a low-band frequency is the 600 MHz band.

Mid-band frequencies

Mid-band frequencies are those between 1 GHz and 10 GHz. Mid-band frequencies can generally travel a few kilometres and can carry more data than low-band frequencies. As a result, mid-band frequencies can be used for 5G, or fifth generation mobile networks, as well as higher-speed broadband services.

An example of a mid-band frequency is the 3500 MHz band.

High-band frequencies

High-band frequencies are those above 10 GHz. These signals typically can only travel a few hundred metres. The signals also cannot go through walls or buildings. They are well suited to create fast and reliable networks that don’t need to cover a big area, like a single building or a stadium.

An example of a high-band frequency is the 24 GHz band.

Many service providers use a mix of low, mid and high bands to deliver signals to their customers, depending on the use cases, coverage and speed desired.

Spectrum in Canada

Please note:

Spectrum management


Spectrum is finite. This means we are not able to create more spectrum… but we are able to make better use of what is available.

Every year, demand for spectrum grows as wireless services do. The Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry manages spectrum to maximize Canadians’ benefit from its use. Effective spectrum management also ensures that a wide range of users can access spectrum without experiencing interference. Since spectrum does not stop at licence boundaries and international borders, the Minister is also responsible for Canada’s domestic and international spectrum coordination activities.

Spectrum management is also important for a number of other reasons, including public safety and national security. For example, it allows the military, law enforcement, and emergency responders to communicate securely on dedicated frequency bands.

The laws and regulations providing the Minister with this authority are the Department of Industry Act, the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication Regulations, while respecting the objectives of the Telecommunications Act. Under the Radiocommunication Act, the Minister has powers to:

  • authorize the use of spectrum through various means
  • fix and amend the terms and conditions of licences
  • establish technical requirements and standards in relation to the use of spectrum

ISED's role in managing spectrum

As Canada’s spectrum regulator, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) advances Canada’s vision for spectrum management on behalf of the Minister. ISED policies are guided by the Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada. We develop spectrum policies and frameworks to support investments in high-quality wireless networks, rural/remote coverage by wireless networks, competition, and affordability in the wireless services market.

There are several types of spectrum policies and frameworks that ISED may develop for a particular spectrum band. Generally, we begin by developing a policy regarding the type of use for a particular band. For example, with the 600 MHz band, we established a policy repurposing this spectrum from over-the-air TV to mobile use. Once the type of use is established for a spectrum band, we then develop a licensing framework. This framework would set both the conditions to obtain and hold a licence, as well as the process by which licences are assigned (for example, first-come, first-served, or an auction). Finally, we establish a technical policy to set specific technical parameters such as power levels and equipment specifications.

Prior to finalizing any of these policies and frameworks, ISED always seeks feedback through public consultation. These consultations allow the public to review and comment on proposals before they’re finalized. The comments we receive through this process are considered in the development of the final decisions. When developing our technical rules, we also meet regularly with various stakeholders and work closely with industry associations, such as the Radio Advisory Board of Canada (RABC). The RABC is a committee made up of a variety of telecommunications stakeholders including wireless carriers and service providers, manufacturers, network operators, broadcasters and more.

ISED also publishes a Spectrum Outlook, which outlines our overall priorities related to Canada’s radio spectrum over a five-year period. The Spectrum Outlook sets out our spectrum release plans, as well as our policy objectives when making spectrum available. In the current Spectrum Outlook 2023 to 2027, we signalled that Indigenous connectivity will be a key priority going forward to support economic reconciliation through meaningful engagement with Indigenous Peoples on issues related to spectrum access. With increased engagement, we hope to develop a greater understanding of the unique challenges faced by Indigenous communities and adopt new and more accessible approaches to make spectrum policy more inclusive of and responsive to Indigenous needs and priorities.

Spectrum Licensing

Please note:


The Radiocommunication Act allows the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to issue various authorizations to users to allow them to use specific frequency bands. These authorizations include:

  • radio licences
  • spectrum licences
  • broadcasting certificates
  • radio operator certificates
  • other authorizations

For the purpose of this website we are focusing on spectrum licences since this is the type of licence being made available through the Indigenous Priority Window.

Read on for information on:

  • Licensing of spectrum
  • Licence-exempt spectrum
  • What spectrum bands might be available to me for my connectivity project?

Licensing of spectrum

When you obtain a spectrum licence, you are allowed to use a specific portion of the radio frequency spectrum during a specific period of time, over a specific geographic area and, in some instances, for a particular purpose. For example, a mobile network operator (the “licensee”) can hold a spectrum licence allowing it to provide cellular services in a specific frequency band over a specific geographic area.

Eligibility

The general eligibility requirements to hold a spectrum licence are set out in subsection 9(1) of the Radiocommunication Regulations. In order to support specific policy objectives, ISED may apply additional eligibility requirements. These additional eligibility requirements would be included in public consultation for the respective spectrum licensing framework.

Fees

There is often a cost, or licence fee, associated with the use of licensed spectrum. Licence fees are put in place to incentivize the efficient use of spectrum, and to provide a fair return to Canadians for the use of spectrum.

The licensing cost depends on a number of factors such as:

  • the spectrum band
  • the type of licence
  • the number of devices on the network
  • the area of intended use

Conditions of licence

All spectrum licences come with an attached set of conditions, which are developed through public consultation. The purpose of the conditions is to ensure licensees make good use of the spectrum and don’t cause interference with one another. Licensees must remain in compliance with these conditions in order to keep their licence.

Conditions of licence may include:

  • eligibility
  • deployment requirements
  • licence transferability, divisibility and subordination rules
  • licence fees
  • treatment of other spectrum users
  • radio station installations
  • technical considerations and international and domestic coordination
  • mandatory antenna and site sharing
  • annual reporting

Additional details on specific conditions of licence are available on our Conditions of licence / Appendices web page.

How to obtain a spectrum licence

ISED uses a variety of licensing processes to issue spectrum licences based on the technical specifications, market demand, and policy objectives for the specific spectrum band.

Every time we launch a spectrum licensing initiative, we consult with stakeholders, partners and the public. When these public consultations close, we review all the comments to decide on the manner in which the spectrum will be licensed.

Possible licensing processes include:

  • Spectrum auctions: Auctions are a competitive process, where applicants bid on the spectrum licences they would like to acquire. We typically use an auction when demand for spectrum is expected to exceed the supply. Competitive measures may be added in auctions to help small and regional providers access limited spectrum resources.
  • First-come, first-served: In this process, the first applicant receives the spectrum licence if their application meets the required criteria and is approved.
  • All-come, all-served: In this process, every applicant is granted a spectrum licence if their application meets the criteria and is approved.

Licences can also be obtained through the secondary market. This means getting access to a licence that has already been licensed to another party through a private agreement. For smaller wireless service providers, this “subordination” or “sublicensing” of spectrum licences can be an opportunity to access underutilized spectrum, particularly in rural, remote and Indigenous areas of Canada. Spectrum licence transfers and subordinate licensing procedures are set out in the Licensing Procedure for Spectrum Licences for Terrestrial Services.

Licence-exempt spectrum


There are also specific spectrum bands that are available for use without the need for a licence; this is called “licence-exempt spectrum.” Licence-exempt spectrum has no cost associated with its use, is available to all users and is typically available everywhere.

You do not need to apply for a spectrum licence for licence-exempt spectrum; however, all licence-exempt equipment must be certified. ISED sets technical rules on licence-exempt devices so that interference is minimized between users, but there is also no protection from other users in the band. The popular Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies, for example, are designed to operate effectively in licence-exempt bands.

This spectrum is widely used by many businesses, including some rural Internet providers, to serve small communities.

What spectrum bands might be available to me for my connectivity project?

High-quality wireless services are crucial to keeping Canadians connected, especially in Canada’s most remote regions. Making spectrum more available to Canadians opens the door to opportunity and innovation, as people and organizations create new ways to keep Canadians connected from coast to coast to coast.

There are spectrum bands that may be a good fit, depending on the project, including the following:

  • Access Licensing Framework: The new Access Licensing Framework is meant to facilitate greater access to unused spectrum in rural and remote areas, and support the delivery and/or expansion of broadband services and new industrial or commercial applications in these areas. The spectrum licences first being made available through this framework will be the unused portions of the 800 MHz Cellular and 1900 MHz Personal Communications Services (PCS) spectrum bands in rural and remote areas. There will be an Indigenous Priority Window (IPW) applied to the spectrum licensing portion of this framework followed by a general first-come, first-served access licensing window. For more information on the IPW for access spectrum licences, consult the draft Indigenous Priority Window Spectrum Policy Framework
  • Non-Competitive Local (NCL) Licensing Framework: This is a way to provide a broad range of users (including businesses and industry verticals) with the opportunity to acquire licences in localized areas across the country. This framework will initially apply to the 3900 MHz spectrum band.
  • TV White Space bands (TVWS): These bands are available for licence-exempt use. TVWS technology, operating in low-band spectrum, is currently being used to provide broadband connections to underserved communities with small to medium population densities. TVWS technology can also be used for private networks.
  • Spectrum licences for higher power and outdoor Radio Local Area Network (RLAN) devices (HPODs): This is an all-come, all-served licensing framework, which is available at no cost. These licences could be used to boost networks within small geographic areas.
  • 6 GHz band: This band is available for licence-exempt use for standard-power, low-power indoor and very low-power RLAN devices, each operating under different technical conditions. This band can be used to support broadband Internet access for a large number of users in both residential and commercial contexts, including in rural and remote areas, as well as for private networks.

For a list of bands that ISED is planning to release in the coming years, see the Spectrum Outlook 2023 to 2027.

If you have any questions or would like more information, contact the Indigenous Spectrum Policy Team by email at indigenousspectrumpolicyteam-equipedepolitiqueduspectreautoch@ised-isde.gc.ca.


Indigenous Priority Window FAQ

Please note:

What is the Indigenous Priority Window (IPW)?


The Indigenous Priority Window, or IPW, is a proposed time-limited window when Indigenous applicants can apply for certain spectrum licences, on a priority, first-come, first-served basis. The IPW gives eligible Indigenous applicants the first choice for a given set of spectrum licences. Once the priority window closes, applications are open to all.

The main goal of the IPW is to support Indigenous access to spectrum to develop Indigenous-led connectivity solutions that can close connectivity gaps for Indigenous communities across Canada.

Indigenous voices are essential to developing this new Indigenous Priority Window Spectrum Policy Framework. ISED is seeking views and comments from interested Indigenous Peoples, communities, service providers, businesses and organizations on the draft IPW Spectrum Policy Framework.

Insights gathered through this engagement will inform the first ever application of the Indigenous Priority Window Spectrum Policy Framework.


Why introduce an IPW?

Many of ISED’s Indigenous partners, through recent consultations, have told us that spectrum access is one of their key priorities. Some have called upon ISED to apply the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act to its spectrum management policies. Others have stated that Indigenous Peoples should be given priority access to unused licensed spectrum, with some respondents identifying a priority access window as a potential tool for economic reconciliation that can provide greater self-determination for communities.

As a result of these comments, as well as others which can be found in the draft Indigenous Priority Window Spectrum Policy Framework, we are introducing an Indigenous Priority Window for the new Access Licensing Framework.

What spectrum bands will the IPW make available?

We are proposing that the first application of the Indigenous Priority Window be for licensing the unused portions of the 800 MHz Cellular and 1900 MHz Personal Communications Services (PCS) spectrum bands in rural and remote areas, which will be made available through the new Access Licensing Framework.

We may also apply the IPW Spectrum Policy Framework to future spectrum access initiatives, and will specify what bands would include an IPW when those initiatives are announced.

When will the licences be available?

Currently we are in the engagement period for the draft IPW Spectrum Policy Framework.

See the Table of Key Dates for details about when licences will be available. This table will be updated as more information becomes available.


Engagement on the draft IPW


When will the draft IPW Spectrum Policy Framework be finalized?

The IPW Spectrum Policy Framework is currently in draft status. We have started a six month public engagement process. During this time, we are looking for views and ideas on the draft policy, which will shape the final policy document. To help guide the discussion, we have included engagement questions in section 5 of the draft.

For more information concerning timelines, see the Table of Key Dates.

How can I submit feedback?

You can share your views on the draft Indigenous Priority Window Spectrum Policy Framework either orally or in written format.

1. Orally

To submit your feedback orally, join us for an engagement session (see dates listed below) or reach out to the Indigenous Spectrum Policy Team at ISED by email at indigenousspectrumpolicyteam-equipedepolitiqueduspectreautoch@ised-isde.gc.ca to request a meeting.

Engagement Sessions:

2024 Spectrum Sovereignty Summit
Hosted by: Indigenous Connectivity Institute
When: February 22, 2024
Where: RBC Foundry at Bayview Yards, Ottawa, ON

22nd National AFOA Conference
Hosted by: Aboriginal Financial Officers Association Canada
When: March 5 to 7th, 2024
Where: RBC Convention Centre, Winnipeg, MB

2. Written

As all written comments received will be published on our website, please do not include any confidential or private information. We may request additional information if needed to clarify significant positions or new proposals.


Applications for the IPW


Who is eligible to apply for the IPW?

ISED is seeking to collaborate with interested Indigenous partners to develop IPW eligibility criteria that are reflective of Indigenous needs and priorities. Eligibility could be defined based on applicant, community and/or project, or a combination.

  • An applicant-based approach would allow Indigenous applicants to apply for available spectrum licences, regardless of location.
  • A community support-based approach may give individual communities more control over who acquires the spectrum over their lands as written support from the Indigenous communities within the licence area would be necessary.
  • A project-based approach would consider whether an initiative is Indigenous-benefitting, Indigenous-informed, has partnerships with Indigenous Peoples, and/or is Indigenous-led as defined by the I4DM Definitional Matrix [PDF: 180 KB].

For more information on the options, see section 3 of the draft IPW Spectrum Policy Framework.

How long will the IPW be open?

For the 800 MHz Cellular and 1900 MHz Personal Communications Services (PCS) spectrum licences made available through the Access Licencing Framework, we are proposing that the time-limited window for the IPW be 12 consecutive months, but this is subject to engagement.

For more information concerning the key dates for this IPW see the Table of Key Dates.

This timeframe may be revisited for future IPW processes as deemed necessary and subject to engagement.

What conditions will apply to licences acquired through the IPW?

Since the IPW Spectrum Policy Framework will first apply to the 800 MHz Cellular and 1900 MHz Personal Communications Services (PCS) licences made available through the Access Licensing Framework, licences acquired through the IPW will have the same conditions as those outlined in annex B of the Access Licensing Framework for access spectrum licences.


Funding opportunities


Is there any funding available to help with my connectivity project?

The Business Benefits Finder can help you find funding for your project. Contact the respective groups directly for information on each funding option or its availability.

Other funding opportunities are available through the Government of Canada or Indigenous banks.

Government of Canada funding options:

Indigenous banks:

Please note that as these are outside organizations and funding sources, ISED cannot comment on how they may view your potential project. Please contact the organization itself for further details. This is not an exhaustive list of all sources available.