5G technology could be destined for Edmonton

Edmonton could be on the cutting edge of technology as it continues to explore the option of installing a 5G network, currently used in a limited number of cities in other parts of the world. 

City's proposed digital plan includes the super fast wireless technology

A 5G network allows faster data transfer and the ability to connect more devices simultaneously. (Codie McLachlan/CBC)

Edmonton could be on the cutting edge of technology as it continues to explore the option of installing a 5G network, which would offer improved wireless speeds, connectivity and stability. 

At an executive committee meeting Monday at city hall, councillors approved a digital action plan based on implementing the fifth generation of wireless technology.

The technology is available in a limited number of countries but is not yet supported in Canada, though it could be as early as the end of 2020. 

Coun. Ben Henderson said the technology will give the city momentum. 

"I think this is exciting," Henderson said at the meeting. "If we don't do this kind of thing, we will regret it later."

The report presented to the committee did not include costs.

The technology enables faster speeds with higher volumes of data for activities like video calling, instant messaging, streaming and browsing.

It gives users the ability to connect more devices at the same time, compared to the widely used 4G, commonly referred to as LTE or Long Term Evolution. 

The city aims to extend cellular connectivity through LRT tunnels and expand free public Wi-Fi to more facilities and locations. On the world stage, 5G is in its early stages in a few cities in South Korea, Italy, Estonia, the U.K., and the U.S., the city report says. 

Edmonton is working with the private sector to develop the infrastructure. Henderson noted Shaw and Telus have installed fibre optic lines that will support a 5G network. 

Ryan Walker, a design specialist with Telus, told the committee that 5G can be used in conjunction with other technology, like artificial intelligence, to detect things like the number of pedestrians waiting at an intersection and potentially affect the timing of lights. 

People will be afraid of Big Brother.- Coun. Scott McKeen

Algorithms are being developed to anticipate behaviour and could be used to help curb crime, Walker said. 

For example, a person standing near a building who shakes a spray can could be flagged as someone preparing to tag a building. 

Walker said Telus is focusing on technology that allows cameras to pick up on activity but not identify individual people, "removing that 'Big Brother' lair concept from the security cameras." 

Coun. Scott McKeen said the city will have a role in letting people know how things work. 

"If we're going to go out and engage the public, those will be really important because people will be afraid of Big Brother."

Henderson agreed public consultation will be key in making sure people's privacy concerns are addressed. 

A living lab on Whyte 

Jaya Panwar, general manager of Telus in Edmonton, pitched the idea of creating a living lab on Whyte Avenue.

The living lab — a research term — would involve installing technical infrastructure like fibre optic cables, small cells and camera sensors. 

Panwar told the meeting the lab would test 5G uses in a specific area. 

"We have an environment ready to go from a technical perspective that can just try things out in." 

Telus chose Whyte Avenue based on existing partnerships with police and conversations with the Old Strathcona Business Association, she said. 

"We're working very closely with the Edmonton Police Service to help reduce crime and help create safer environments."

Panwar said Telus is looking for a 12-month partnership with the city, Stantec and police.

The committee asked administration to report back next spring on the progress of the digital plan and work on associated pilots, like the living lab on Whyte.

Canada is expected to adopt new standards and regulations on 5G technology by the end of next year.