Monday 9 February 2015

Licensed Cellular Frequencies and Modes

When cellular telephone service in Canada went main-stream two decades or so ago, there were only three frequency bands that consumers had to worry about; namely, 800 MHz, 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. Each vendor operated on its own band and used difference technology modes: - CDMA, GSM and PCS.

Although there were multi-band and multi-mode phones available, most users opted for a single band, single mode configuration.

At the start of 2015, thinks have changed drastically. There are three nationwide carriers and numerous regional carriers that operate their own infrastructure networks. There are also carriers that have licenses to operate across the country but for economic reason have chosen to build out infrastructure only in selected areas, usually high density and thus high demand urban areas. They use roaming agreement to provide service to their customers outside the operators’ home areas.

The technology side has advanced to the stage where most carriers are operating their networks using the two major modulation schemes: - HSPA and LTE. Basic CDMA will be a dead technology in Canada long before the end of this decade. There is no indication at the moment that GSM and PCS will be shut down soon but things can change quickly and with short notice in the fast moving cellular industry. .

User demand has forced the agency responsible for spectrum management in Canada –Industry Canada (IC) - to dedication more of the radio spectrum to cellular service. This is usually done in coordination other national agencies in order to ensure interoperability. For example there are specific agreements on frequency use along the Canada-USA border with particular attention being paid to First Responders frequency needs.  

A lot of today’s hardware can handle numerous frequency bands and both of the common modulation schemes. However, there is a significant amount of fairly new hardware still in use that can handle only HSPA modulation and have limited frequency capability.  

The following table summarizes the more common frequencies bands currently in use,  

Band Name
Frequency 1
Mobile Broadband Services
700 MHz 
iDEN 2
800 MHz
850 MHz
Advanced Wireless Services-1 Up/Down
1700 MHz & 2100 MHz
Advanced Wireless Services–3 3
1755 MHz to 1780 MHz
2155 MHz to 2180 MHz
Personal Communications Services
1900 MHz
Advanced Wireless Services-2
1915 MHz to 1920 MHz
1995 MHz to 2000 MHz
2020 MHz to 2025 MHz
Wireless Communications Service
2300 MHz
Broadband Radio Service 4
2500 MHz
Fixed Wireless Access
3500 MHz

1      These designations are a shorthand terminology to identify the various bands in everyday discussions. The actual operating frequencies may vary and in some case be outside the frequency ranges noted.
2       iDEN -  Integrated Digital Enhanced Network. This is a press-to-talk design that operates like a        walkie-talkie network.
3      Auction scheduled for March 2015
4      Auction scheduled for April 2015

Note there is no direct correlation between bands and modes. HSPA and LTE can operate in any of the bands.  Frequency bands are normally allotted as paired or unpaired frequencies across a specific bandwidth measured in MHz that varies from 5 to 30 MHz.  A paired frequency allows the use of part of the frequency band for download and part of the bandwidth for upload.  There may be numerous paired bandwidths within a frequency band. This allows a number of different vendors to operate without interference in the same band. It also allows IC to allot specific parts of a band to specific carrier classifications such as national, regional, new entrants, etc. This was most recently done in the 700 MHz band auction and will be done in the upcoming AWS–3 auction in March 2015.

Most bands also have one or more unpaired frequencies. Traditionally, these unpaired frequencies were used as one way broadcast networks or occasionally combined with another unpaired frequency in another band to provide two way communications. LTE-TDD (Long Term Evolution-Time Division Duplex) can use these unpaired frequencies to provide broadband service. The FWA (3500) band is currently being used by vendors such as Bell and Xplornet to provide broadband (high speed) Internet to rural and suburban areas. In the Algoma District Bell FWA is available in the Elliott Lake and SSM-Airport (Prince Township) areas. This service is considered an Internet service and not a cellular service. 

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