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Federation of Canadian Municipalities Annual Conference and Trade Show: Connecting Canadians through 5G

You’re reading this on a screen.  Which, for the past 15 months in particular has served as our primary window into the world.  The pandemic has forced us all to reimagine parts of life in a digital way.  How we learn, how many of us work, how we receive government services, how we stay connected to loved ones and how we even worship and celebrate.

This massive drive online – and the impact of COVID-19 in requiring it – was not something that any one of us could have imagined.  But, despite the dramatic increase in usage – here in Canada by as much as 60% nearly overnight – Canada’s networks have not only met that demand but surpassed global average broadband speeds by 50%.

Even though technology has seamlessly become part of our society, it seems like only yesterday (1985) when the first cellular phone call was made in Canada between the mayors of Toronto and Montreal. In wireless, technological moments are marked in G’s. 1G allowed us to use our analog flip phones, 2G allowed us to text, 3G in early 2000s put our computers in our pockets and the palms of our hands and 4G introduced the on-demand era of Uber, AirBnB, and ordering groceries online.

We are on the cusp of a new era with 5G.

Let’s say you are in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. A doctor could begin surgery remotely while you are on your way. In black ice conditions, sensors identify icy conditions in high-risk intersections and alert passengers before your car skids out of control. And for the brave firefighters who put their lives on the line keeping us safe, 5G can help locate people inside buildings through the black smoke that currently is tough to do. 

For these cases and many more, 5G will be transformational for all Canadians. Today, some two million rural Canadian households are digitally underserviced and left behind. Only half of rural Canadians, and only about one-third of Indigenous communities, have access to high-speed Internet. With various levels of government, we are accelerating our path to bridging this digital divide.

In parallel, the race to catchup with global leaders in 5G is on. Rogers was the first to bring 5G to Canada and we have brought 5G to over 700 communities across the country. It is part of the $60 billion in investment over the past 35 years in Canada and we are just getting started. As we build the 5G network out, towns and cities will want to attract the high skill talent that will live there and create services off and around 5G that will benefit residents.

I had the opportunity to interview 3 such innovators, at the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) virtual Annual Conference and Trade Show this year.  They were Philip Reece, founder of InDro Robotics, Jazz Pabla, CIO of the City of Kelowna and Vivianne Gravel CEO & founder b-citi.

InDro Robotics was the first in Canada to receive a license to carry commercial cargo via drone. InDro Robotics was able to send COVID-19 tests via drone from Penelakut Island to Vancouver Island, a roundtrip journey that usually took 4 hours via ferry. They were able to reduce this to 7 minutes. The drone used the cellular network to make its journey. The 5G network with its low latency and super fast speeds, are only super charging what drones can do.

Jazz Pabla told us about the pilot project with Microsoft, Rogers and UBC, in 2019 where 5 LiDAR radar sensors were installed at busy intersections across Kelowna. The sensors capture heat map-like data, that through 5G is relayed back securely to the Information Office at the City of Kelowna. Using this data, the city wants to evolve to a state where a pedestrian signal at a traffic light could be extended if it sensed that it was taking someone longer to cross the intersection, for example someone with a stroller. The LiDAR radar sensors are very considerate of privacy, collecting heat map data and no personal information, a key consideration in the design of smart cities.

Similarly, Vivianne Gravel, a Canadian pioneer in digital, mobile and AI (Artificial Intelligence), who through the ethical use of AI and 5G, is connecting citizens to their relevant city services, through one app. This may include everything from parking payment, booking a tennis court, information about a city park, to whether a road is ploughed or not. According to Vivianne, the average cost savings to a city of making one service digital is $11 per citizen. Imagine the savings for a city like Toronto which has hundreds of city services.

Philip, Jazz and Viviane have revealed a sliver of the art of the possible with 5G. Some towns are not waiting. The town of Fredericton in partnership with Rogers organised a weeklong Hackathon to develop 5G solutions to address the city’s smart city challenges¹. For all of Canada to realise the potential, valued at $40 billion in additional annual GDP by 2026², we will need all towns and cities to similarly seize the opportunities this technology provides. We’ll help ensure that our nation will be ready for it.  And our collective prosperity will require it.

Sevaun Palvetzian, Chief Communications Officer, Rogers

¹ BOOST: a smart city innovation event | City of Fredericton
² Accenture Strategy – Fuel for Innovation: Canada’s Path in the Race to 5G;