It is Christmas a week early for stakeholders in the Canadian wireless industry. Minister Moore announced spectrum policy decisions in 6 key areas: AWS-3, 600 MHz consultation, 3500 MHz, AWS-4, additional backhaul, & 24/28/38 MHz licensing.

The combined impact of these decisions and of the 2500 MHz auction is a clear attempt to settle a fourth mobile carrier once and for all in 2015. The consultation for the 600 MHz launches a potentially “quick” process for additional beachfront spectrum.

With the US AWS-3 auction reaching stratospheric values, Industry Canada appears to have had a slight change of heart regarding the AWS3 spectrum award with the impact of potentially increasing competition. The FCC’s AWS-3 auction now has bidding over $44 billion and is not over yet. Prices for paired AWS3 spectrum are now more than 25 times higher than the opening bid prices proposed in Canada.

The six areas covered by Minister Moore are:

  1. confirmation of the sealed-bid auction for AWS-3 with 60% of the frequencies reserved for smaller “entrant” operators,
  2. a new consultation on re-purposing off-air television bands in 600 MHz, in a catch-up attempt with the US Incentive Auction process that has a major consultation underway as of this week. Industry Canada is proposing to repack Canadian broadcasters following the resultant band plan from the US process, which presumably will make the auctioning of the freed up frequencies more straightforward in Canada;
  3. a policy change to allow for mobile service in 3.5 GHz licenses, many of which were auctioned in 2004-2005 for fixed service,
  4. confirmation of previously announced proposals to repurpose mobile satellite AWS-4 spectrum for mobile use, benefiting primarily the one incumbent licensee for this band,
  5. changes to usage of some high capacity fixed service bands to allow for greater availability of wireless backhaul capacity, and
  6. a decision to make available high capacity licenses in the very high 24/28/38 GHz ranges for additional backhaul.

While more obscure, wireless backhaul is an important component of mobile broadband service… the various well-known bands such as AWS, cellular, PCS provide for the subscriber to connect to the wireless carrier’s tower sites. Those sites in turn require very high speed connections to the rest of the world and the Internet. Hence there is a massively growing need for backhaul frequencies as well.

Today’s releases represent a very aggressive agenda for 2015, with inputs to the 600 MHz consultation due January 26, applications for AWS-3 and the already-planned 2500 MHz BRS auction due January 30. This will lead to a due date for bids for AWS-3 on March 3 followed by the complicated combinatorial clock auction process for BRS starting on April 14.