What are small cells and 5G? How do they differ from existing 4G infrastructure?

    A: Small Cells are a type of cellular service antenna system. Traditional cell towers scattered throughout Winnipeg are considered Macro (large) Cells. By comparison, Small Cells are much smaller, and can be mounted on street poles, or on the exterior or interior of various sizes of buildings. Small Cells are almost indistinguishable from Wi-Fi Hotspots – the difference being that Small Cells provide cellular voice and data just like a traditional cell tower does, while Wi-Fi is generally used for internet access across a wide variety of technologies from phones to laptops.


    The cellular industry is shifting to Small Cells because traditional Macro cell phone towers have issues that prevent service providers from delivering next-generation service: 

    • Macro Cells are few and far between, and their antennas are too far away from cell phones to provide substantially faster speeds and better coverage
    • There may not be space to build a large tower in a new or infill neighborhood
    • In high density areas (e.g. downtown), towers may become congested due to the number of cell phones being serviced


    Macro Cells were designed for previous generations of cellular phone access, even predating data access. 4G service has been available in Winnipeg for several years, and is already taxing the traditional cell tower system. While existing 4G service would benefit from a shift to Small Cells, 5G service is dependent on Small Cells to support better coverage, substantially increased speeds, and other features.


    Are Small Cells already in Winnipeg or other cities in Canada?

    4G Small Cell implementations are taking place in several Canadian cities for purposes of trials or to address coverage and congestion needs (e.g. along busy corridors, inside arenas, stadiums, transportation tunnels, and university campuses).  


    A few cities have pockets of 5G Small Cell service available to consumers; however, for the service to reach full capacity, additional higher radio frequencies are necessary. These frequencies are scheduled to be auctioned by the Government of Canada to cellular providers in mid-2021.


    It is expected that localized installations of 4G Small Cells that do not require any municipal involvement are already taking place in Winnipeg. Similarly, cellular providers may already be carrying out localized trials of 5G Small Cells in Winnipeg where municipal involvement is not required, such as in these examples:  

    •     On a wooden utility pole, as utility infrastructure, which includes telecommunication services, is exempt under the Encroachment By-law;

    •     On or in a privately-owned building or structure, where the installation would not result in an increase to the height of the building or structure of more than 25 percent;


    Will trials cost the City anything?

    Cellular providers will be conducting trials of 5G infrastructure in Winnipeg. The City will be coordinating with carriers during trials to see how its existing policies, processes, and procedures regarding cellular infrastructure apply to 5G and Small Cells, and determine what, if any, amendments need to be made.  As such, carriers will bear all costs for conducting their trials.


    The City will incur minimal costs related to engagement and promotion of engagement opportunities, and may incur costs related to staffing of internal activities within approved budgets.

    When is 5G expected to go live in Winnipeg?

    5G service is expected to be available for consumer use after a substantial number of Small Cells are deployed. No specific dates have been announced for Winnipeg, but carriers are planning national rollouts in 2020 and have already begun deployment in some cities.

    What benefits does 5G offer over 4G for Winnipeggers and businesses?

    5G, enabled through Small Cell installations, could provide a competitive advantage to Winnipeg by offering advanced wireless communication that personal, business, and Smart City innovations can be built on. Benefits to residents, visitors, and the private and public sectors include:

    • Significantly faster data speeds
    • More reliable and stable connectivity (e.g. for self-driving cars, remote surgery, and other future innovations)
    • Providing a viable alternative to traditional home internet plans for those who would prefer a single service at home and on the go
    • Lower power requirements (e.g. for battery-powered sensors used to detect traffic patterns or river levels)

    These benefits are in keeping with the Winnipeg Antenna System Policy’s objective to “contribute to the orderly development and efficient operation of a reliable, strong radio communication network in the City”.


    As 5G technology continues to evolve, there is potential for further benefits to municipal services to emerge.


    Are Small Cells and 5G networks safe?

    Canada’s Radiofrequency Exposure Guidelines are developed at the federal level by Health Canada and regulated by Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED). Any company operating 5G or Small Cell technologies in Winnipeg would be required to adhere to these guidelines.

    Is 5G a threat to privacy?

    Issues related to a user’s privacy are the responsibility of wireless service providers.

    If I have a concern with the location of a Small Cell installation, who can I contact?

    The City is not responsible for the regulation of radio communications. Canada’s Radiofrequency Exposure Guidelines (known as Safety Code 6) are developed at the federal level by Health Canada and regulated by Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED). Any company operating 5G or Small Cell technologies in Winnipeg would be required to adhere to these guidelines.   


    Questions or concerns about the guidelines represented in Safety Code 6 should be directed to Health Canada (info@hc-sc.gc.ca, or 1-866-225-0709). Questions or concerns about the placement of a specific installation in your area and its adherence to Safety Code 6 should be directed to the specific wireless carrier if known, or otherwise to the ISED Manitoba District Office (ic.spectrumwinnipeg-winnipegspectre.ic@canada.ca, or 1-800-665-3421).

    What is the City of Winnipeg’s role?

    In general, the City’s role is to provide a streamlined approach for wireless providers to make an inquiry about access to City-owned assets for the deployment of wireless infrastructure in order to support innovation and remain an attractive place to start or grow a business.


    Wireless service providers may search online for City-owned assets (e.g. buildings, land for macro towers) and submit a site feasibility request. If the site is deemed feasible, they may apply for site access. The City reviews and grants access to City-owned assets with a focus on design, location, and structural considerations.


    In addition, the wireless service providers must abide by all the terms and conditions outlined in the Winnipeg Antenna Systems Policy (WASP). The City reviews all antenna system proposals mainly based on design aesthetics and land use compatibility.


    The City’s review does not assess or evaluate health and radiofrequency exposure. Health concerns relating to radiofrequency, energy, and safety fall under the national jurisdiction of Health Canada.


    Beginning in 2020, the City expects that cellular providers will be conducting independent trials of 5G infrastructure in Winnipeg. The City will be coordinating with carriers during trials to see how existing policies, processes, and procedures regarding cellular infrastructure apply to 5G and Small Cells, and determine what, if any, amendments need to be made. 


    The City’s role will also be to assess the outcome of the trials in order to:

    • Pass feedback along to decision makers, including a report on how feedback was considered.
    • Consider and incorporate feedback on the location and design of Small Cells, along with public engagement, into the WASP where possible.
    • Consider the applicability of City-owned assets, such as signal light poles, for use as Small Cell attachments.

    Is the City an approval authority?

    While the City grants access to City-owned assets, the City is not the final approving authority for telecommunications antennas. Approval comes from the Government of Canada with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) as the approving authority for the development and operation of radiocommunication in Canada, including telecommunications antennas, pursuant to the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication and Broadcasting Antenna Systems procedures.


    In cases where the City does not support a proposal, it cannot prevent a wireless service provider from ultimately gaining permission from ISED to install a telecommunications antenna, even if it may contravene the Winnipeg Antenna Systems Policy.

    Can fibre optic cable be used instead of 5G?

    Fibre optic and wireless technologies typically complement each other. For instance, Small Cell sites would communicate wirelessly with mobile devices, while at the same time connecting back to the wireless provider’s main network through fibre optic cable.


    In some cases, both fibre optic and 5G connectivity to fixed locations (e.g. residential internet) may be alternatives to the cable or landline connections used by most internet customers today. These service offerings are the responsibility of the service providers.