Towers and antennas

Back to Consumer resources

Facts about towers and antennas

1. Importance of Wireless Infrastructure

Canadians depend on wireless networks to facilitate their digital interactions with family, friends, businesses, and the public sector. To provide as many regions and communities as possible with access to these networks, deploying wireless equipment remains a key part of building Canada’s communications infrastructure.

Due to the importance of wireless infrastructure in Canada, wireless sites and equipment are subject to a well-established framework of rules. Based on Health Canada’s Safety Code 6, these rules are continuously updated to stay consistent with international standards, and are used by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) to regularly audit wireless operators on a national basis.

2. Federal Regulations

Any time that a company wants to put up a wireless tower, they must follow a regulatory process that is designed to facilitate the deployment of telecom infrastructure while protecting the health and safety of Canadians. Under the authority of the Radiocommunication ActISED is the federal department responsible for overseeing the safe operation of wireless antenna towers and sites.

ISED requires all antenna systems to limit the level of radiofrequency energy (RF) that can be present in public spaces, consistent with the RF guidelines set out in Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 (which include large safety margins to protect the general public, as well as people working close to RF sources).

In some cases, companies may be required to engage in discussions with local land-use authorities (LUA) about the way that network equipment is built or located in particular areas, as well as to participate in public consultations facilitated by the LUA or through ISED’s Default Public Consultation Process. 1

More details about these procedures – including the protocols that companies are to follow when installing wireless systems – can be found in the Radiocommunication and Broadcasting Antenna Systems (CPC-2-0-03) section of ISED’s website.

3. Exceptions to Rules

It is important to note that the following network-building activities may be exempt from the LUA review or public consultation aspects of the federal government’s rules.

Excluded activities:

  • Installing new antenna systems where the height is no more than 15 metres above ground level. 2
  • Modifying existing antenna systems, adding antennas, or replacing towers – so long as the height increase is less than 25%, and occurs at least one year after the initial construction. 3
  • Working with non-tower structures (including attaching antennas to buildings, water towers, or lampposts) may not require consultation if the structure’s height is increased by less than 25%.
  • Installing temporary antennas (i.e., for special events or emergencies) may be exempt from consultation if they are removed less than three months after the start of the event or emergency.
  • Repairs on existing antenna will not usually require consultation before the maintenance work is performed.

3.5 Joint Industry/Municipality Guidelines

In 2013, the CWTA and Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) co-authored a series of recommendations to help guide the deployment of antenna systems in Canadian municipalities (the Joint Protocol). This document offers a template for companies and local authorities to follow so that they can more efficiency deploy antenna systems while respecting community concerns.

In 2014, the federal rules governing how companies install antenna systems in Canada were updated by ISED to include new procedures that closely mirror the Joint Protocol Template developed by the CWTA and FCM.

The CWTA/FCM Joint Template is available through FCM’s website, along with a short summary explaining the document and its relevance to the installation of wireless sites and equipment.

4. More Information

More information on Canada’s wireless safety rules – and how they apply to the antenna siting process – can be found by contacting ISED or an applicable land-use authority, or by consulting the list of resources below:

1 ISED defines a land-use authority (LUA) as a “local authority that governs land-use issues”, including municipalities, town councils, regional commissions, development authorities, township boards, and band councils.

2 This exception does not apply to telecom carriers, commercial broadcasters, or third-party tower owners.

3 Does not apply to carriers, commercial broadcasters, or third-party tower owners, nor to antenna support structures that are less than 15m above ground level.