FAQs - Cell Towers
1. Why are more cell phone antennas needed in West Vancouver?
Mobile phone carriers note that customer usage patterns have been changing rapidly in the face of revolutionary advances in the capabilities of mobile devices. Smartphones are now for many Canadians a crucial part of daily life, offering access to email, calendars and organization, text messaging and voice calls, photos, social networking, online video, internet browsing, and myriad other uses.
In a pre-application meeting in late 2011, one carrier noted the following:
- Voice traffic was surpassed in 2010 by data traffic,
- Data traffic is expected to double every year through (at least) 2014.
- Data use requires exponentially greater bandwidth capacity than voice calls.
- Actual network traffic in 2011 is 5 times their 2008 forecast for 2011 traffic.
- Modern smartphones consume exponentially more network capacity than traditional, voice-only phones.
- That their cell sites within West Vancouver are at capacity and that they are receiving a growing number of complaints from residents regarding dropped calls, inability to connect to the network, and slow data speeds.
As demand for capacity increases at a cell site, the coverage area of that cell site decreases. When a cell site reaches its maximum capacity, it reduces its footprint in order to provide service to the strongest (i.e. closest) signals. This creates gaps in service as the effective range of the tower can be said to expand or contract or “breathe” with customer use.
Implications: Changing customer behaviour is testing wireless network capacity to an extent not before seen. Cell sites which once could be counted on to reliably serve a given area are now suffering from reduced coverage due to increased demand, and gaps in service are growing. Carriers report higher numbers of complaints and dropped calls, while some residents may report that their phone works perfectly fine. Both parties may be correct, as the effective range of a cell tower “breathes” as the demand and load placed on it changes through the day.
2. How many cell phone antenna sites are there in West Vancouver?
There are approximately 18 unique cell sites in West Vancouver, each of which usually contains more than one carrier’s antenna equipment and may consist of more than one structure (tower or otherwise). Rooftop installations were considered as one site. Freely-available antennae maps produced by third parties are available at the external links below; the number of unique sites counted will depend on a person-by-person judgment on which antennae constitute a unique site.
3. How are cell towers regulated in Canada?
Cell towers and antennae and the associated wireless spectrum are federally regulated by Industry Canada, which mandates that a local government’s consultation process be adhered to if one exists (which the District has had in place since 1997). In the event that the local Council passes a resolution of non-support for a given application, the proponent may apply to Industry Canada with an “impasse request,” after which Industry Canada would act as an arbiter between parties. Ultimately, Industry Canada may choose to approve a tower application with or without local government support.
However, Industry Canada recognizes the importance of local consultation processes before cell phone tower applications are approved, and has set in place the following standard processes for proponents to follow:
- Explore opportunities to share infrastructure with other companies or use existing infrastructure before proposing new structures.
- Contact the local land use authority and follow local approval requirements, including public consultation, regarding antenna systems.
- Satisfy Industry Canada’s general and technical requirements.
Industry Canada exempts certain installations from the requirement for public consultation (generally towers under 15 m in height). Despite this exemption, applicants are often willing to undertake some level of public consultation voluntarily and in good faith if tailored to the smaller scale of the application.
4. How is the wireless spectrum regulated in Canada?
Wireless spectrum (the radiofrequency bands used for AM/FM radio, cellphones, over-the-air TV, and so on) is federally regulated by Industry Canada. In recent years, Industry Canada has placed a priority on repurposing, through auction, underutilized wireless spectrum for growing industries that require more spectrum (such as cellphone carriers). As a result, more of the wireless spectrum is becoming available to more carriers, which in turn has required the construction of more cell phone towers and antennas to accommodate the increased demand for wireless service by Canadians.
5. What does the new draft policy say? How does this differ from the old policy?
The proposed draft Wireless Communication Facilities policy breaks installations into three distinct types of facilities and tailors the notification, consultation, and review process commensurate with the level of impact or change anticipated. A summary is provided below; for full details please refer to the policy document.
- Rooftop (Type 1) – Includes wireless communication facilities located on the roof or side of buildings. A staff design review for visual impact is required, and notification of the installation shall be provided by the applicant to building owners and occupants.
- Adaptive Re-use (Type 2) – Means wireless communication facilities that are added to existing structures, such as telephone or hydro poles. A staff design review for visual impact is required, and notification of the installation shall be provided by the applicant to building owners and occupants within 100 m.
- Tower (Type 3) – Includes new towers and retrofitted existing towers where they would be lengthened to beyond 15 m in height. Public notification and consultation, alongside a staff design review, are required prior to the application being considered by Council.
The policy also provides direction to applicants for the siting and location of proposed cell towers, as well as criteria for evaluating the design and visual impact of the proposals. In addition, the policy places priority on replacing or upgrading existing sites prior to seeking approval for new sites that would serve the same area, in order to ensure that old and unsightly towers are not left behind while newer towers are approved.
The previous policy, first established in 1997, was not very specific and did not address those installations which Industry Canada considers exempt from consultation (e.g. rooftop antennae and towers under 15 m). Also absent were policy statements with respect to location preference, visual impact criteria, and the goal to minimize the number of towers necessary.
6. Why are we updating the policy?
Industry Canada is re-allocating wireless spectrum across industries and making it available, at auction, to the cell phone carriers in order to accommodate growth in demand for services at a national level. Additional wireless spectrum generally requires additional antenna infrastructure in order for it to be utilized (i.e. “new” wireless spectrum requires different antennae, and because service demand is growing, antennae deployed for already utilized spectrum must also remain).
At the local level this has lead to increasingly numerous requests from cell phone carriers for expansion of wireless communication facilities, resulting in the need for a modernized Wireless Communication Facilities Policy that can more comprehensively address issues of process, notification and consultation, location preferences, and visual impact and design.