3 key Canadian telecom trends for 2020

Canada’s telecommunication scene was filled with drama, tension, and exciting advancements. As we embrace a new year, we highlight the top three trends that you should keep an eye on.

Click here to read more about what to expect in 2020 across the IT industry.

1. 5G auctions and 5G advancements

Canada will be holding spectrum auctions for 5G for the 3,500 MHz bands in late 2020. While it won’t conclude until early 2021, Canada will finally be much closer to a highspeed, standalone 5G rollout. As the spectrums get distributed, infrastructure investment will also ramp up. Gartner predicts that 5G infrastructure revenue will reach $4.2 billion in 2020, an 89 per cent increase from 2019.

This time around, the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) has provisioned 40 per cent of the 5G spectrum bands for smaller carriers to bid on. This ensures that Canada’s big three telcos won’t be able to smother smaller competition by dumping copious amounts of money into the auction.

In addition, the 70GHz and 80GHz spectrums will be also up for auction in the middle parts of 2020. These high-frequency bands won’t be used to directly serve users, but rather transmit massive loads of data between the base stations and the core network. This special segment of the network is also known as the backhaul.

A major subset of 5G is being able to operate the network virtually. Features like software-defined networking and network slicing allow an operator to more flexibly scale to local network traffic demand and performance needs without adding hardware.


Mainstream launch of 5G expected in Canada in 2021

You won’t have to wait until 5G rolls around to see its benefits; Canadians can already get a preview of 5G by looking at other nations. Qualcomm predicts that 200 million 5G devices will be shipped in 2020, and 450 million more in 2021. At its Snapdragon Summit in December 2019, Qualcomm further said that 1.4 billion 5G smartphones will have shipped by 2022. In addition, always-connected personal computers will boom as well. An ABI Research concluded that by 2021, 10 million always-connected PC will have shipped.

And that’s just its outreach in consumer devices. 5G also encompasses business use cases including IoT, fixed wireless networks, automation, and home networks. One does not need to stretch the imagination to see its vast economic potential.

2. More edge computing (and IoT devices)

Investment in centralized processing power will continue to grow in the foreseeable future, but to improve network performance and resource availability, edge computing and IoT will absolutely skyrocket in 2020.

For a bit of a backgrounder, edge computing just means processing and delivering information closer to the user. Where that edge starts, however, is a muddled line. Edge can represent anything between a cell tower or your smartphone.

Moving computation to the edge has various benefits. Decentralizing and distributing hardware processing power across many smaller nodes means lower latency, faster responses to requests, and higher information availability. It also provides a degree of redundancy; if one node goes down, the outage is compartmentalized in a smaller zone. Finally, as infrastructure technology continues to advance, managing these nodes is becoming easier than ever.

There are privacy benefits as well. Earlier this year, Google claimed that it’s working to anonymize the data it collects by scrubbing it free of personal information before they’re uploaded to Google servers. It’s also looking to compress the AI speech processing capability to a size that can be stored on an average smartphone, eliminating the need to be connected to the cloud to issue commands to the Google Assistant.

All the aforementioned benefits will appear in more IoT devices in 2020. From sensors to smart homes, IoT devices are expected to grow alongside edge computing. An IDC report even stated that ubiquitous IoT will be the new normal for 2020. Furthermore, a McKinsey report says that investments in IoT technology are projected to grow at 13.6 percent per year through 2022.

IoT already has more than 200 applications in the enterprise space and is continuing to grow.

But with the rise of IoT devices, so has the concern with security. The industry unanimously agrees that security will be a key part of IoT growth.

3. Canada to make a decision on Huawei


Huawei’s future in Canada is nebulous as expansion plans for the TTC. After a tumultuous year filled with political, trade and security tension, Canada must finally make a decision on whether or not to continue to use Huawei 5G gear.

Although 5G won’t officially be here until at least 2021/2022, Telus, one of the nation’s largest telecoms, extensively uses Huawei gear in its networks. If Canada were to ban Huawei, Telus would have to replace a vast swath of its network infrastructure, which could cost the company around billion dollars.


Stay away from Chinese 5G network gear, US consul warns Canada

Telus has admitted that its 5G deployment would be delayed if Ottawa decides to ban Huawei, but Darren Entwistle, Telus chief executive officer, said that it won’t impact the timing of when Telus would take its 5G network online.

In an interview with The Vancouver Sun in January, an unnamed Telus executive defended Huawei, saying that the Chinese company is not a security concern and that there are enough safeguards to deflect eavesdrop attempts.

The current situation is rife with controversy with opponents and proponents swinging at each other. Huawei lost access to key partners like Google and Microsoft after being blacklisted from doing business with U.S. technology companies over security concerns. Since then, the U.S. has extended the grace period twice and has granted temporary exemption licenses to a few key business partners.

“The telecom industry needs a confirmation sooner than later,” said Mark Goldberg, head telecommunication consultant at Mark H. Goldberg & Associates. “We have major trading partners that have already confirmed that security can be managed. Telecom is extremely capital intensive and capital markets are never happy with uncertainty. Government intervention in the marketplace can be a major source of uncertainty, whether it is CRTC regulation, delays in making radio spectrum available, or certification of equipment. This uncertainty increases the cost of capital, increasing the costs to service providers and ultimately being yet another contributing factor to higher prices for consumers.”

Last month, Huawei announced that it will be moving its U.S. research centres to Canada. In parallel to the announcement, Huawei founder Ren ZhengFei said that the company is looking to make Canada its key focus in North America.