Over the last year and a half, the pandemic has made us more dependent on technology than ever before. Our digital connections are paramount, and as consumers embrace more Internet of Things (IOT) and smart devices, the pressure is on: our wireless infrastructure needs to keep up with increasing demand.

In June, the Canadian government launched its latest wireless spectrum auction—which raised a record $8.91-billion. The 3,500 megahertz spectrum is crucial in building out 5G services and securing Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy.

As Canada’s Big 3 providers roll out these fifth generation networks, how can we start thinking about the vastly different digital future that awaits many industries just over the horizon? In this Disruptors conversation from Oct. 2020, host John Stackhouse chats with Bell Mobility President Claire Gillies. Together, they explore what lies ahead for Canada’s wireless sector— and consumers in a 5G world.

Read on / listen to learn how Canada’s technological future can be shaped now—and why Gillies thinks 5G should be viewed as, “exploring the art of the possible”.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Simplecast

How Canada Can Win the 5G Race

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.

Speaker 1 [00:00:01] Hey, it’s Theresa. Perhaps, like me, you’re hearing more and more about the benefits of 5G, even though many of us are still stuck on the 4G highway or God forbid, the 3G side road. The promises are many — 5G or fifth generation wireless technology will deliver higher peak data speeds, more reliability, greater network capacity and a more uniform user experience. All the major cell phone manufacturers are pushing 5G enabled devices, though Canada is still playing a bit of a catch up to the world that’s all about to change. In June, the Canadian government began its latest wireless spectrum auction, and it’s considered the most consequential auction in many years. The 3500 megahertz spectrum is crucial in building out 5G services for Canada’s wireless players. 5G represents a unique opportunity to grab new customers and deliver profitable new high speed services. But the necessary investment to make 5G happen is also forcing consolidation in the wireless sector. Most significantly, with the proposed twenty six billion dollar takeover of Shaw Communications by Rogers, what will this new wireless landscape mean for Canada and Canadian consumers? And what does Canada need to succeed in this global 5G revolution? This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. I’m Trinh Theresa Do. On today’s episode, we revisit an in-depth conversation between John and Claire Gillies, CEO of Bell Mobility, one of Canada’s wireless giants. They talked last fall before the spectrum auction in which Bell is a top contender, about some of the real world benefits of greater connectivity that will come from 5G’s implementation. Among them, everything from smart farms to smart cities and a whole lot in between. Without further ado, here is my co-host, John Stackhouse’s interview with Claire Gillies.

Speaker 2 [00:02:18] Claire, thanks for joining us on Disruptors.

Speaker 3 [00:02:20] Very happy to be here at such an exciting time in the wireless industry.

Speaker 2 [00:02:24] So we’re going to get into some of those opportunities and hear about some exciting examples of what can be done and what is being done with 5G. But first, I just want to set the table with a bit of an explanation about 5G. I’ve heard it referred to as transformational. The Financial Times, I think, called it a game changer for humanity. That’s a pretty tall order. What is it?

Speaker 3 [00:02:47] Well 5G, and what it stands for is it’s the fifth generation of wireless networks and it really is not an evolution, as you’ve described. It’s really a revolution in the wireless industry that will change the way we work and live and play, because what it offers is so many more new capabilities than the past generation of networks.

Speaker 2 [00:03:09] To give us a sense, especially for the non techies listening, of what the key differences are between 5G and 4G or even 3G for that matter.

Speaker 3 [00:03:20] There’s three primary elements that come into 5G that really advanced. Number one is speed and capability of the network. So we’ll see a dramatic improvement in the speed of networks as we move forward. Number two is the latency or the quickness, the responsiveness of the network. And the last piece, of course, is some of the services. And, you know, I refer to it as the ability to do slicing and different capabilities within our network that will afford us new options for things that we can build.

Speaker 2 [00:03:53] And what does slicing is an interesting term. What does slicing look like for most of us as users?

Speaker 3 [00:03:58] So you can think of it as instead of every service or application getting equal access to the network, it’s the ability for us to take a portion of the network and allow individuals or applications to use a dedicated quote unquote lane, if you want to think of it in the highway example that we’re all so familiar with and with that, you can explore different services to accommodate that need. It could be someone who needs very high speed, dedicated access in emergency circumstances. And oftentimes I talk about that in the form of public safety. If in case of an emergency you would take a slice of the network and you would dedicate it to those individuals responding to the crisis so they could in an uninterrupted way deal with the state of emergency. That’s just one of the examples of slicing. And now there’s multitudes of things that go along with that.

Speaker 2 [00:04:56] I suspect most people feel like they’ve been hearing about 5G for at least a few years now in other parts of the world. They’re moving ahead fairly quickly, especially in Asia. Where are we at now, Claire, in terms of 5G in Canada? And what does the timeline look like in terms of these opportunities coming to be so?

Speaker 3 [00:05:15] The Canadian market is still very much and what we would describe as an early 5G phase based on the current network spectrum and combinations that we have available to us. And what happened in Asia is they saw the different frequencies of their network become available sooner. So in South Korea, as an example, they had access to three point five gigahertz. If we look south of the border in the US, they’ve done some millimeter wave auctions for Canadian market. We’ll see the three point five megahertz spectrum auction happen next summer, the summer of twenty one, at which case then you’ll see another evolution of 5G that will, of course, add more and more benefit to the end users

Speaker 2 [00:06:00] in Korea is such an interesting example because just in 12 or 18 months, they’ve moved rapidly ahead with 5G. What sort of things should we be learning from Korea and get prepared for going into deeper into the twenty twenties?

Speaker 3 [00:06:14] There’s definitely a few things. So the first thing was, of course, how the government supported them. They really rapidly deployed and made the critical spectrum combinations available for 5G early. And then the second thing that really happened is the major operators in that country really focused on urban areas. And so what it did is it gave the end users immediate benefit where they could feel that density change. And the third thing, of course, was the providers really. To deliver services, they took full advantage of the 5G capabilities.

Speaker 2 [00:06:51] I fear one of the things we’re missing as Canadians is the transformational opportunity not just across the economy and not just for consumers, but for organizations of any size, shape or form if this technology is as powerful as it’s it’s laid out to be. And we’re clearly seeing in Asia that it is clear what should we be thinking about in terms of using this technology to make Canada more competitive?

Speaker 3 [00:07:19] It really is for businesses, I think, at this point, and exploring the art of the possible, thinking about how we should change our businesses in ways that we’ve never dreamed of before. How do we use air in VR in training circumstances? How do we use it to enable remote medicine and surgeries? And the list goes on and on. But it’s sort of this idea of, you know, anything is possible, but we all have to put our minds and our and our investments behind making these innovations happen in the Canadian market.

Speaker 2 [00:07:53] So it’s not just about thinking faster and it will be faster, but it’s rethinking your business or your organization in entirely new ways. And to understand that better, we reached out to someone who has a quarter century of experience in the telecom industry, who’s helped build smart city infrastructure in the US and India. Keith Ponton is a senior systems consultant at IBI Group, and he told disruptors these are early days, but there’s so much possibility for Canada right now.

Speaker 4 [00:08:23] A lot of the measuring sticks we have for five ground carrier deployments, how many carriers have deployed, how many cell sites, how many handsets are deployed? And that’s a very early indicator of who’s leading the pack. But I think the promise of 5G is not so much about deploying infrastructure, but it’s about the applications that will develop typically in a three to five year window after the base infrastructure is available. So well, Canada, because of our population density, tends tends to not lead in those discussions compared to a country like South Korea. It’s important for us to 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 of business and innovation for the next five to 10 years.

Speaker 2 [00:09:20] Such an interesting point about density and scale. Canada does not have certainly Asia’s density or scale. Claire, without those two factors, how do we accelerate?

Speaker 3 [00:09:32] I think, first of all, as Keith pointed out, it’s important that we get the network coverage and availability in place. And so that’s what the carriers are working very quickly on now. And then there’s a series of different partnerships that we have to encourage this innovation and thought leadership. And we’re really investing not only in businesses, but also in the education infrastructure within the country to explore new ideas. How can we use augmented reality? How will smart cities evolve? When we look at things such as cell research and machine learning and mobile computing, how will all of these factors play a role in how we leverage the fulsomness of the 5G investment that we’re making? And so how does Canada play a role? We get behind it. We get behind it as government. We get behind it as business leaders to make change happen and continue the reputation, quite frankly, that this country has had in terms of being a technological leader.

Speaker 2 [00:10:39] We also ask Keith how Canada can maintain or build on that reputation.

Speaker 4 [00:10:44] You know, my answer is to focus on what we as Canada have as advantages. What we don’t have is a huge population density and large cities on the scale of some US markets or South Korea or even European cities. But what we do have and bring to the table is a lot of innovation and experience. So going beyond the ability to deploy infrastructure, I think the 5G race really is around developing innovative technologies and approaches to leverage that. For example, certainly Canada has a long history in terms of agricultural innovation and leadership in that market. And there’s a number of 5G technologies that support the smart form of the future that would allow us to be leaders in that space in a domain that we already understand.

Speaker 2 [00:11:33] I’m glad Keith mentioned the Smart farm because that echoes the report we put out a couple of years ago called Farmer 4.0, which looked at the digital transformation of agriculture and the skills as well as technology. That Canada needs to be a food producing power in the twenty twenties and thirties, a couple of summers ago I visited a farm outside Saskatoon where the farmer was testing a self-driving harvester. Picture this, a machine going across the prairies with no driver turning up and down the field on its own. And actually, there were a couple of guys chasing it from time to time with laptops, trying to correct the coding. And as I talk to the farmer about how this would transform his operation, he said a few things that really stuck in my mind. One obviously was the ability for him to spend his time doing other things. He didn’t need to sit on a vehicle going up and down the field. He could spend his time studying the data, for instance, that was coming off the vehicle that really excited him. But he wasn’t sure how that was going to happen because networks are not consistent. And until we get there, it’s going to be a little harder for farmers to take advantage of these new technologies, the way that other farmers, especially in Asia, are starting to seize on the technology. Is there the desire and capability of Canadian farmers? Is there all the pieces are there? So how is the country? Do we help pull them together?

Speaker 3 [00:13:10] No, you’re absolutely right. And, you know, the term smart farm is really very on point. And you think about all of the different things that technology will now allow us to measure at scale with 5G, because obviously the cost to deploy a wireless network in some of these more rural and remote markets is very efficient. But I want you to think about agriculture. And there’s an example of something we did with a winery able to measure wind speed, temperature and humidity levels for people who are thinking, in that instance, managing their crops, that you can expand that to many other smart agricultural aspects of the Canadian market.

Speaker 2 [00:13:54] I’m so glad you raised the winery example. We profiled another winery on disruptors a few years ago and spoke to a winemaker who was able to control the vineyard with her phone. She was kind of sitting on stage as well as direct the drones that were working with weather sensors. All kinds of fantastic stuff to see. But I think we take for granted the network that makes that possible. And if you don’t have that speed, the low latency, you’re not able to control all those devices. And all of this really kind of opens up the door to the Internet of Things, which is another bit of a cliche these days, but is a really important way of thinking about the economy of the future, that we have all sorts of devices, drones, appliances, but factories and vehicles connected. And of course, they’re connected by networks. And it’s not just business leaders, any organization, we hospitals, schools, local community associations, how should they be thinking about these opportunities clearer as we look into the future?

Speaker 3 [00:14:59] Well, first of all, I think this has been a moment in time where everybody is really reflecting on what the future needs and what their business needs are and their personal needs are as they as they look to advance. And so in that moment of reflection, I think a lot of organizations are looking at transformative technologies. So, you know, the first thing, of course, for anyone is you can have the service application, but you need a couple of different things. The first one, as you said, is we need the network coverage. Right, without an incredible network partner, really, the application is not relevant. It’s not valid. It can’t work to its optimum capability. And so choosing the right network partner and making sure that we have a robust connectivity infrastructure in Canada is key. And we, of course, drive that mandate each and every day at Bell, then I think it really is about conversation and exploration. There are many, many experts and this is where I know our technical teams that love to have these conversations with, you know, to use your term disruptors, people who really want to be change agents. And what you find is those individuals who are looking at transforming their business. They get the first start. You know, they make that progress and then others will rapidly follow. And, you know, we have some terrific examples. There’s one specific tank company and they completely change their business. They change the way their fleet went out into the field. They changed the way they monitored. And as a result, they were able to improve their operational efficiency dramatically. You can imagine what happened, people followed, but they had the advantage of being there first. But to your point, you know what’s critical? Have a conversation. I can tell you that we have a team of people who have experience and they want to explore options and develop new solutions for you and can steer you in the right direction. So businesses don’t need to try and figure these things out on their own.

Speaker 1 [00:17:11] Hey, it’s Theresa again. I hope you’re enjoying this encore presentation of disrupters in the second half of the program. John continues his conversation with Clare Gillis and also speaks to the chief digital officer of one of Canada’s most innovative cities. If you’re liking what you’re hearing, I’d encourage you to check out some of the many conversations John and I have had with Canada’s top business leaders and innovators over the past year, such as our special Earth Day episode, where I talk with two environmental pioneers who are using block chain to help fight climate change. You can find past episodes of Disrupters at RBC dot com slash disruptors or wherever you get your podcasts. Now back to John Stackhouse.

Speaker 2 [00:17:58] Today, I’m chatting with Clare Gillis, the president of Bell Mobility, about the 5G revolution and the truly connected economy is going to usher in. One city that’s on the cutting edge of 5G is Hamilton, Ontario, which was once known as the steel capital of Canada and is now home of the Innovation Factory at McMaster Innovation Park. Hamilton has also been named as one of the leading seven intelligent communities of 20 20 by the Intelligent Community Forum. That’s why we reached out to the city’s chief digital officer, Cyrus Tehrani, to get his take on the possibilities 5G presents for both consumers and business.

Speaker 5 [00:18:37] The analogy I give it, I think of it for myself as I look at my smartphone and I really can’t live without it. I know that’s a big statement to make. I can live without it. But the functionality that it provides me in my life on a day to day basis, I can’t imagine being lost that now, whether it’s something even like Google or Waze or whatever, that’s all because of the speeds that 4G enabled. And I think we’ve all had that experience where you go to an area where it’s 3G or 2G or something else, you’re like, oh, I can’t even use Google Maps. It’s not updating. So think about the opportunities that potentially exist. How much more new use cases can be evolved that we haven’t even imagined, but it won’t be until it’s fully probably adopted and deployed. And we definitely don’t want to be behind and looking at, I think, other regions and saying, oh, I wish we could do that, but we don’t think about how to make that investment or make it a priority.

Speaker 2 [00:19:28] Clear what communities we’ve just heard from Hamilton be thinking about to position themselves for perhaps a very different future with 5G.

Speaker 3 [00:19:38] As cities are constantly building and renewing their infrastructure, there are opportunities to integrate 5G and IOT technologies along with that that will revolutionize the way they do business and allow them to actually proactively monitor and manage potential risks. So as we are continuing to move forward and progress as we come out of this very challenging covid period, I think building better is absolutely the right way to think about it. And building better means building with connectivity, building with insights with our end users in mind, whether those are consumers or whether those are business owners.

Speaker 2 [00:20:22] I think of the example of smart parking, which would be fantastic. I’d love not to have to drive around the block multiple times waiting for a spot to come open. I’d rather get notified or have my vehicle notified and take me to the spot as it’s becoming available. More broadly, how do cities make a compelling case for the investments that will be needed?

Speaker 3 [00:20:45] For me, it’s always around. What’s the return on the investment, whether it’s the citizen experience or whether it’s a reduction in the costs that a city is operating at and how they can reinvest those dollars in new things to make their community better and stronger for the citizens who live there.

Speaker 2 [00:21:03] I suspect coming out of this crisis, another area of opportunity will be health care as we look for more home care, for less centralization, perhaps, of a lot of health care services. That’s going to depend on technology. That depends on networks. Again, what should we be thinking about in terms of the health care revolution that may be upon us and what 5G can do to accelerate that?

Speaker 3 [00:21:27] You can imagine in the future that we could have a one of the best surgeons in the country and Toronto operating on someone in northern Alberta remotely at a distance through the connectivity that we provide with 5G. So it just in terms of making availability of the very best in health care accessible in a democratized way to everyone, this is going to be a game changer, I think, for all of us and not just here in Canada, but also the role that we’re going to play in the global economy.

Speaker 2 [00:22:00] And it’s not just some of those kind of sci-fi examples that involve robotics. Stuff that’s happening today can be accelerated and even transformed with this technology. We published a report a while back called Paging Dr. Data, and it looked at how data is is transforming health care, but really needs to transform it far more in different international studies. So that I’ve looked at it seems most of the focus right now is on manufacturing and the industrial sectors. Perhaps that’s because that’s where the money and efficiency gains are. Should we also be thinking in those directions? It’s not just cities and health care systems, but how do we transform our industrial base in this country as we continue to face more and more competition?

Speaker 3 [00:22:49] I mean, you talk about manufacturing and retail. You think about improving automation, providing visibility into things such as the. Supply chain, where parts are moving, all of these elements are thinking about how do I how do I use data, you know, whether that’s heat sensors, whether it’s movement control and again, many, many other applications and saying, how do I make this better, faster, more efficient for my organization? And as a result, many of those things will also pop out benefits to the business, as well as end user benefits. That will, of course, further create an attitude towards that business from a consumer.

Speaker 2 [00:23:35] As we look at Asia, the adoption rates there are accelerating and the enthusiasm for 5G, you see this in business surveys is really significant in not just in places like China and Korea, but in South Asia and India. And there seems to be a bit less enthusiasm in North America. And I wonder, Claire, how we can balance those sometimes competing forces in our minds.

Speaker 3 [00:24:04] Earlier in the conversation, we talked about how the third generation and the fourth generation of networked technology have changed the way businesses have participated in the economy. And I just as you fast forward into 5G, you cannot imagine that it won’t have that same sort of revolutionary change on the way that we do business. And there will be this notion of first mover advantage. There’s also more so than I think there’s ever been, John, that we live in this global economy. And so it’s important that as Canadian business leaders, we think about, you know, what are the changes and how do we embrace them and how do we use them to our advantage, not only here in our own market, to deliver better business results, better consumer experiences, but also how we use this as a catalyst for our future in the global economy.

Speaker 2 [00:24:59] I wonder, Claire, as we move towards close, how we can ensure that we have those productive gains? One of the challenges always with technology is that there is an enormous consumer appeal, and that’s terrific. But it’s also important to ensure that frontier technologies also go to the productive side of the economy. How do we ensure that 5G does indeed do that and leads to great and broad benefits for society?

Speaker 3 [00:25:26] One of the things I think of that is really critical is just how far reaching this networked technology will be. So we’ll talk about things like leveraging 5G to provide high speed Internet access in more rural communities who haven’t historically had access to that level of service. And we spoke previously about access to health care and applications of that sort. So I really do think that, you know, when we look at businesses, we look at consumer access. It’s about how we’re changing the game, how we’re reducing expense in some areas to explore and invest in other areas. And this is just this is going to be one of those examples. So whether it’s rural broadband access, virtualize health care or cost savings benefits that can be reinvested to explore new areas for businesses. This really is the moment in time that that’s critical for us to look at the future and to make investments and change for the future.

Speaker 2 [00:26:30] It’s interesting to think of this as a moment in time. And as I sit here looking at my phone, which may be the most important inanimate part of my life, and that’s probably true for many, if not most listeners as well. It’s hard to imagine future moments where the phone and devices will be even more powerful and more significant parts of our lives. But they will be because of the power of what we know they’ll be able to do in the years ahead. There can be downsides to that that we’re all familiar with. But the opportunity for society, for organizations, for business and communities is far greater than the risks. My guest today has been Clare Gillis, the president of Dell Mobility. Thanks for sharing your time and your thoughts.

Speaker 3 [00:27:18] Absolutely. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2 [00:27:21] But I also like to thank Keith Ponton from IBI Group and Cyrus Tehrani, the chief digital officer for the city of Hamilton, for their perspectives on the potential of 5G. I’m John Stackhouse and this is Disruptors and RBK podcast.

Speaker 1 [00:27:36] And I’m Theresa Do. Thanks for joining us for this special look at the 5G revolution. It’s a fast moving world and we’ll keep you updated on the latest developments in the next season of Disruptors, which launches after Labour Day. Join us next time for another special summer episode where we check in on some of our favorite stories of entrepreneurial resilience from the past year. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 3 [00:28:05] Disruptors, an RBC podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service. It’s produced and recorded by JAR audio. For more Disruptors content, like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or visit rbc dot com slash disruptors.


Jennifer Marron produces "Disruptors, an RBC podcast". Prior to joining RBC, Jennifer spent five years as Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and cultivated a large network of industry leaders, entrepreneurs and partners to support the Canadian startup ecosystem. Her writing has appeared in The National Post, Financial Post, Techvibes, IT Business, CWTA Magazine and Procter & Gamble’s magazine, Rouge. Follow her on Twitter @J_Marron.

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