CWTA President and CEO, Robert Ghiz Delivers Keynote at Economic Club of Canada, Toronto(en anglais seulement)

Robert Ghiz, CWTA President & CEO
Keynote Address: The Next Wireless Revolution in Canada

Economic Club of Canada
Toronto, ON, November 26, 2018
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. It truly is a pleasure to be here with the Economic Club of Canada.

I’m going to spend some time today talking about wireless in Canada – where we are, what the next generation of mobile wireless will bring, and what Canada needs to do to make the most of its opportunity. But let’s start with a little bit on who we are at the CWTA.

The CWTA is the authority on wireless issues, developments and trends in Canada. We represent wireless operators, as well as companies that develop products and services for the wireless industry, and we therefore have a unique ability to bring various people, companies and groups together to affect positive change.

We also run a number of industry-led initiatives and programs including RecycleMyCell, Device Check Canada, the Mobile Giving Foundation Canada, as well as many others.

Let’s take a look now at where we as an industry are today. Well, simply put: we’re in a strong position. Canada’s wireless industry is a national success story – a story built on the strength, reach and performance of our advanced wireless networks that extend across Canada’s vast geography and reach nearly every single person who calls this nation home.

Our industry has been shaped by some of the greatest innovators in Canadian history, whose efforts to deploy world-class wireless networks from coast to coast serve not only the needs of consumers, but also the needs of Canadian businesses too numerous to list. And I say they’re too numerous to list because virtually every sector and business in our economy depends on the continued growth and success of Canada’s wireless industry.

We take this responsibility seriously. It’s why our industry drives billions of dollars of investment into Canadian communities every single year. It’s why our industry generates close to 140,000 full-time jobs. And it’s why our industry has produced world-class wireless networks in every province and territory, built for Canada, by Canadians.

These wireless networks are the foundation of our success story. They offer fast and reliable mobile wireless connectivity, and the current generation of wireless technology, known as LTE (or 4G), is, right now at this very moment, available to 98.5% of all Canadians1.

I know some of you might be skeptical about that number, but rest assured, it isn’t a figure I’ve made up or pulled out of thin air. It is data taken directly from the CRTC, one of our most prominent regulatory agencies.

Not only are our 4G/LTE networks expansive, they are also fast. In October of this year, Ookla Speedtest ranked Canada’s wireless networks as being 138% faster than the global average, making them the fastest in the G7, and 4th out of 124 countries. By way of comparison, U.S. wireless networks were ranked 43rd.

Canada’s wireless services have been widely embraced by Canadians. Today, there are more than 32 million wireless subscribers in Canada using more mobile data than ever. According to the most recent CRTC numbers, more Canadian households have mobile phones than land lines, and more than one quarter of them rely exclusively on wireless services.

Canadians are not only avid adopters of wireless services, they are also high adopters of the latest wireless products. According to a report from Cisco, 83% of Canadian mobile subscribers are using smartphones. And the data traffic generated by Canadians continues to grow. The same Cisco report forecast that data traffic will grow 500% from 2016 to 2021.

How many industries – if any – can look ahead and forecast a growth in demand of 500%?

But these numbers shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Canadian subscribers know they can counton excellent networks for their wireless services – networks that surpass most other countries in terms of download speeds and availability.

That fact is even more impressive when you consider the size of our country, its relatively small population, and the challenges of our geography. For example, Canada has over twice the land size of the European Union, but approximately 7% of the population. This makes it very expensive to build a wireless network from coast to coast in Canada.

And yet, with each new generation of wireless technology, our facilities-based carriers, and the vendors and suppliers who partner with them, have risen to the challenge. They have made massive investments to build and upgrade the networks we rely on today.

Let’s look at it this way: in 2011 4G/LTE networks were only available to 44.7% of Canadians. Over six years that percentage more than doubled and LTE networks are available to 98.5% of Canadians. Why is that? This great achievement would not have been possible without the incredible investments made by our Members. Similarly, over the four years between 2013 and 2017 wireless network download speeds increased by 60%. And again this is due to the significant investments made by our facilities-based carriers.

Not counting the billions of dollars in spectrum costs, Canada’s facilities-based carriers have invested approximately $50 billion to build Canada’s leading wireless networks. They have built what OpenSignal calls, and I quote, an “LTE powerhouse”, “a global 4G superpower”, and a country that is extremely well-positioned to “deploy the 5G networks of the future.”

For all the reasons mentioned, it is accurate to say that Canada is a world leader in wireless, providing advanced wireless networks to Canadians and providing the platform and services that power Canada’s mobile digital economy. But it is also an industry where the pace of change is relentless.

Now is not a time to rest on our laurels. There is a revolution coming to wireless – fifth generation wireless networks, or 5G. The rollout of these networks will be critical for Canada, and it is something we absolutely need to get right. And it is something that all stakeholders – industry, regulators, policy makers, and the public – need to work together on.

Let’s be clear: 5G isn’t “just another upgrade”. It is truly revolutionary. The implications of 5G networks are significant and far reaching, not just for our industry, but for all Canadians.

What is 5G? 5G is a new kind of wireless network that will redefine the capabilities and services that a mobile network can deliver. More capacity, faster speeds, greater reliability, lower latency, and the ability to connect massive numbers of devices and enable data-driven insights – these are just some of the key characteristics of the new 5G networks.

Mobile networks will no longer be thought of as simply a data “pipe”; they will be intelligent systems delivering wireless services tailored to the needs of each individual user. Yes, your smartphone will reach new levels of speed and capacity. But 5G will deliver more than super-fast phones and tablets.

Mission-critical services, such as those related to public safety, will have access to ultra-reliable and ultra-low latency wireless services. Non-critical services, such as smart sensors, which are used widely in the agriculture industry, will benefit from networks that can connect 1 million devices per square kilometer.

It is this flexibility to deliver the reliability and performance requirements of a diverse set of use cases that sets 5G apart, and what makes it so vitally important. It will not only enhance our current use of mobile communications; it will pave the way for new digital and data-driven businesses and services. It will usher in a new era for our entire economy.

Yes, Canadian consumers are going to benefit from 5G. But Canadian businesses and innovators will depend on the unique capabilities of 5G in order to remain competitive with the rest of the world and continue to grow Canada’s economy.

There are very few sectors of the Canadian economy that will not be completely transformed by the introduction of 5G wireless networks, which is why the successful deployment of these networks is so critical.

We partnered with Accenture this past summer to take a closer look at what 5G networks could mean for Canada’s economy. In a report released just a few months ago, they estimated that the deployment of 5G networks will result in incremental annual GDP contribution to the Canadian economy of $40 billion by the year 2026. It will also add close to 250,000 permanent jobs over the same period.

Economic impact aside, the Accenture study also looked at some examples of 5G use-cases – potential applications and new technology reliant on and only enabled by the tremendous capabilities of 5G networks – and that is where I think the possibilities for the future become even more powerful.

Let’s take one example – health care. Accenture explored the idea of a Connected Ambulance, where a continuous flow of data between the ambulance and the hospital would allow for improved workflow between the paramedics and the hospital staff, thereby resulting in better outcomes for patients.

Looking only at patient loads here in Ontario, Accenture found that 5G technology could positively impact over 7,300 stroke patients every single year. The technology could also lead to reduced patient stays. If even 10% of patients see a reduction in the duration of their stays by 20%, it would result in savings of $140 million for the public health system.

That is just one example among many. Precision agriculture is another area Accenture explored in its report. 5G in the agriculture sector will mean increased use of sensors for soil, crop, and livestock, as well as smart irrigation systems and connected machinery to increase efficiency. Accenture reported that the use of 5G for smart irrigation on blueberry farms alone could be expected to result in annual savings of approximately $270 million dollars.

There are some pretty exciting urban applications for 5G as well. Think of your favorite sports game to watch at home, or in my case, the PGA Tour. Imagine this experience being totally transformed, so much so that you become completely immersed in the live-action of that sport, in real time, through a combination of high-definition video, augmented and virtual reality. This kind of transformation will take passive at-home viewing and entertainment to new levels.

So, yes, the future is exciting, and very positive. But as I said at the outset, we cannot take our past success for granted.

The OpenSignal report I quoted earlier mentioned that Canada is well-positioned for 5G. But our research with Accenture showed that some important public policy discussions need to take place with our stakeholders in order for 5G to be a success for Canada.

First of all, in order to deliver 5G to Canadians we must be able to use a combination of low, mid, and high band radio frequencies, or spectrum, which use is subject to the oversight of the federal government. As of October, seven countries had auctioned or licensed at least one band of spectrum for 5G use. This month [In November], the United States initiated its auction of high band, or millimeter wave, spectrum. In Canada, the two key spectrum bands will not be auctioned until 2020 and 2021. Ensuring this spectrum is made available for commercial use in Canada must be a priority.

5G will also require the deployment of more fibre and the installation of more wireless equipment. In particular, the use of high-band spectrum to deliver faster speeds and greater data capacity will require the deployment of small cell networks. These networks use small antennas, sometimes compared to the size of backpack or pizza box, affixed to existing public infrastructure, such as bus shelters, the sides of buildings, street lights and hydro poles.

Accenture reported that up to 273,000 small cells will need to be deployed across Canada in the next five to seven years. Compare that with the 33,000 towers deployed over the past 20 years.

Unfortunately, many of the rules we have in place today for the deployment of wireless infrastructure were established when wireless networks primarily consisted of antennas affixed to 200-foot-tall towers. Efficient and timely deployment of small cell networks requires collaboration among all levels of government, as well as industry stakeholders, to develop rules, procedures, and fee structures that enable an efficient and timely deployment of advanced 5G wireless networks.

Of utmost importance is a regulatory environment that encourages continued investment in wireless networks. We have world-class 4G networks today because of the tremendous investments made by our facilities-based carriers. The Accenture report estimated that deployment of 5G in Canada will call for further investment of $26 billion over a seven-year period. That is a significant amount of capital to put forward. If we want to see that investment materialize in Canada, a stable regulatory environment that encourages investment is a necessary condition.

And I am confident we will get there. There have been some pretty strong debates about policy relating to wireless over the years. This is healthy and it happens across the majority if not all industries. But when you look at where we are today, we should be confident and excited about the future.

We have a world class wireless industry in Canada, one that will help position us well for the future.

At CWTA we are currently working to lead a positive, collaborative dialogue with stakeholders across all sectors, particularly through our 5G Canada Council. By engaging, and by truly collaborating, we can make sure wireless services continue to benefit the lives of countless Canadians from coast-to-coast.

Thank you.

– End of Remarks –

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1 CRTC – Communications Monitoring Report – 2017