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The telecommunications industry is on the brink of a revolutionary transformation with the advent of 5G technology. Offering faster connections, increased network capacity, ultra-low latency, improved reliability, and enhanced security, 5G is set to accelerate the digital economy and unlock a myriad of economic, environmental, and societal benefits. This article delves into the challenges and opportunities associated with 5G deployment in Canada and examines its implications for the country's digital economy.


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The Power of 5G Connectivity

5G is poised to revolutionize connectivity by delivering speeds up to 20 times faster than its predecessor, 4G. With up to 100 times the traffic capacity of 4G and ultra-low latency, 5G connectivity will enable a host of innovative use cases that contribute to economic growth, environmental sustainability, and societal advancement. The demand for enhanced connectivity had been further accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated trends in , consumer purchasing habits, entertainment preferences, migration patterns, service preferences, and business models. As businesses shift towards localized and digitized supply chains, the importance of fast and ubiquitous 5G connectivity becomes even more pronounced.


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The Importance of a Healthy Telecommunications Industry

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To support the deployment of 5G and leverage its benefits, Canada needs a healthy and robust telecommunications industry. The experience with 4G rollout in peer countries has demonstrated that jurisdictions with financially unstable network operators experienced slower deployment and adoption rates. As 5G takes center stage, countries around the world are recognizing its pivotal role in the digital economy and incentivizing network operators to deploy networks rapidly, despite the higher costs and challenging business cases. Canada must follow suit to ensure a smooth and swift transition to 5G.


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Challenges Faced by Canadian Mobile Network Operators

In the digital economy, Canadian mobile network operators face significant challenges due to their smaller size compared to large multinational competitors and global peers. On average, the three largest Canadian telcos generate approximately three and a half times less revenue than leading telcos in the G7, South Korea, and Australia. This undersized scale not only hampers their ability to negotiate better prices but also affects their capacity to invest in the infrastructure required for 5G deployment. With the forecasted cost of delivering 5G connectivity up to 71% higher than previous generations, Canadian MNOs face financial constraints that impact their ability to enable the digital economy through 5G.

Regulatory Shifts and the Future of Telecommunications

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Globally, telecommunications companies have turned to mergers and acquisitions to address industry trends such as higher capital expenditure, slowed core revenue growth, and increased competition. It is noteworthy that regulatory decisions in 2020 that approved large-scale mergers in the United States and Europe indicate a shifting attitude towards supporting large-scale telcos that are capable of funding next-generation connectivity networks. Canada's regulatory approach needs to evolve to reflect this changing landscape. While affordability should remain a key priority, regulators must also consider the necessity of 5G for Canada's economic development and adapt to the changing competitive landscape.


In Western Canada, the deployment of 5G is expected to have a transformative impact on the region's economy. With estimated annual GDP growth of $34 billion by 2035, all major industries in Western Canada are projected to benefit from 5G connectivity. Traditionally reliant on capital-intensive industries such as mining, oil, and gas, the four provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia are seeking to diversify their economies and promote more balanced and sustainable models. The role of technology, particularly 5G, has emerged as a crucial driver of this diversification effort.

The Forecasted Benefits of 5G in Western Canada

The deployment of 5G in Western Canada will enable a range of new use cases in the digital economy. Smart mining automation, connected and autonomous vehicles, and automated smart farming are just a few examples of how 5G connectivity can optimize operations, reduce costs, and create new revenue opportunities. By improving the use of resources and closing the urban-rural digital divide, 5G has the potential to deliver significant environmental and societal benefits to Western Canada.

Overcoming Challenges for 5G Deployment in Canada

To fully harness the benefits of 5G, Canada must address the challenges hindering its deployment. The government needs to expedite the allocation of mid- and high-band frequencies, ensuring that network operators have access to the necessary resources. Additionally, there is a need to encourage investment in the telecommunications industry by fostering a favorable regulatory environment. This could involve offering incentives, streamlining approval processes, and supporting collaboration between stakeholders.


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Collaboration and Partnerships for Success

The successful deployment of 5G requires collaboration and partnerships between various stakeholders, including government, telecommunication companies, technology providers, and industry leaders. By working together, these entities can leverage their respective expertise, resources, and capabilities to accelerate 5G deployment and maximize its potential benefits.

Embracing 5G: A Catalyst for Canada's Digital Economy Transformation

The rollout of 5G technology represents a monumental opportunity for Canada to drive economic growth, enhance competitiveness, and promote sustainable development. However, the country must overcome the challenges associated with its lag in 5G network performance and the undersized scale of its mobile network operators. By fostering a healthy telecommunications industry, adapting regulatory approaches, and embracing collaboration, Canada can position itself as a leader in 5G deployment and unleash the full potential of the digital economy. The future of Canada's telecommunications industry hinges on its ability to embrace the transformative power of 5G and harness its benefits for the nation's prosperity.


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