How Canada Can Win the 5G Race

Author : Jennifer Marron, Managing Editor - Innovation
​​​​​​​Read Time : 2 minutes 

* This article is by Jennifer Marron and was originally published on RBC Disruptors.

5G has been touted as the most transformative technology since wireless services were introduced in 1985. The fifth generation of mobile technology, it’s expected to be 100 times faster than existing 4G networks in Canada, and much more responsive when sending and receiving data in real-time. Imagine downloading a three-hour HD movie in under a second on your smartphone. That’s 5G.

It’s not just about speed – picture firefighters wearing AR augmented helmets that allow them to see blueprints and thermal images in real time, or a doctor in Halifax performing a real-time surgery on a patient in Regina.

5G is a “game-changer for humanity,” according to The Financial Times – and it’s being rolled out in Canada as you read this.

There’s clearly a lot of hype, but what does it mean for Canada? We’re still in the early phases of capability, but by summer 2021, there will be an even greater evolution of 5G, when the CRTC auctions off the extremely high-frequency spectrum (3,500 MHz). And the time to plan for it is now. From agriculture to healthcare, Canada has some distinct advantages that we can capitalize on to help make us more competitive.

Claire Gillies, president of Bell Mobility, and a recent guest on the Disruptors podcast says 5G presents an opportunity to re-think businesses and organizations in entirely new ways, and explore “the art of the possible.”

“How do we use AR and VR in training circumstances? How do we use it to enable remote medicine and surgeries? Anything is possible but we all have to put our minds and our investments around making these things happen in the Canadian market.”

Canada is challenged by its limited scale and population density and will need to build robust infrastructure capabilities to get in the game. But we come to the table with a long record of innovation and a solid foundation to build upon.

“The promise of 5G is not so much about deploying infrastructure” said Keith Ponton a Senior Systems Consultant at IBI Group, a global architecture, engineering and technology firm. “The 5G race is around developing innovative technologies and approaches to leverage that.”

He points to Canada’s long history of leadership in agricultural innovation. “There are a number of 5G technologies that support the smart farms of the future that would allow us to be leaders in that space in a domain that we already understand.”

“It’s important for us to have a posture of a running start in this race. We don’t want to wait for the infrastructure to be fully deployed before we start thinking about the innovative applications that will be the platforms for business and innovation for the next 10 years,” he said.

The future we envision now will determine the future we build. 5G can facilitate the kind of real time, always-on connection that will be critical to the smart cities that lay ahead (think: autonomous vehicles, connected, sensor-enabled light posts and real-time transit capacity alerts).

5G will also translate into cost savings for municipalities across the country. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association predicts that Vancouver could reduce congestion to the equivalent of taking 12,500 cars off the road thanks to smart traffic systems, Calgary could save up to $87M for households with 5G-enabled smart grid technologies and the small town of Kingston, ON could save $930K annually with smart street lighting.

It’s still early days in the infrastructure rollout but the time to innovate is now. Other nations are already capitalizing on 5G’s game-changing capabilities. Let’s not let the opportunity slip our grasp – or risk losing our competitive edge as a country of innovators.


Jennifer Marron

Experienced digital strategist, content marketer and innovation series producer.​​​​​​​