EDMONTON— Edmonton wants to be a leader in 5G cellular wireless communication and although experts commend the forward thinking endeavour, they want city officials to be careful who they get the technology from.

Edmonton could benefit from being the first to deploy 5G — a fifth generation wireless network, which will provide the average user with faster download and upload times for bigger files, fewer delays in communication and the ability to connect multiple devices — by attracting more investment to its tech sector. Although Edmonton is currently exploring what it would take to be the first city in Canada to implement a 5G network, security experts have concerns about the technology and about working with Huawei, a Chinese telecom company that could provide it.

Councillor Michael Walters made the original motion for the city to look into being a leader in 5G technology in order to reap the benefits early.

“If we are really into economic diversification and if we are really into innovation technology and digitization of the economy we should really also be into getting ahead of the curve on 5G,” he said. “And figuring out how to use it effectively and thus all the associated entrepreneurial opportunities that come along with it, we could take advantage of those as well.”

The city is currently working to understand 5G technology by looking into other jurisdictions that are studying it. They are also looking to explore regulatory changes required — such as cutting red tape to approve equipment installation, entering into partnerships with universities and setting up test areas for the 5G products. On Monday, Edmonton’s Executive Committee decided the city should continue its work and keep talking to telecom companies about a possible partnership. They also asked that a progress report be produced in April 2020.

Pedram Mousavi, professor of electrical and mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta, strongly believes the city would benefit from 5G, especially if Edmonton is one of the first cities to roll it out.

“It helps connectivity, it helps economic development and if you are the first implementing in Canada, we can attract lots of opportunities around that.”

He said the majority of startup companies today are working with big data and artificial intelligence and having 5G will help facilitate that.


“5G will allow the connectivity of millions of devices and these devices can be sensors communicating between two machines, to people,” Mousavi said. “The bandwidth that’s in 5G allows the connection of large amounts of data, which in essence helps startup companies around the city to work on this data for productivity, for development of the product and so on.”

He said having 5G will definitely attract a lot of investment in the tech sector and allow for the creation of more startups.

Although experts agree the technology has great potential, they are also apprehensive about equipment required from Huawei Technologies Inc., and potential security risks associated with 5G itself.

“Trying to explore what the next generation is just indicates a forward-thinking city,” said Christopher Parsons, senior research associate at Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

“Should they ultimately move with a 5G network that they build using Huawei equipment, that comes with a whole range of security concerns.”

Australia, New Zealand and the United States have already blocked companies from using Huawei’s 5G equipment, citing concerns that it is an arm of Chinese military intelligence and may enable surveillance by the Chinese government — a charge the company denies.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 on an extradition request by the United States. The Chinese government then arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on vague charges related to national security. They also toughened the sentence of a Canadian held on drug charges — changing a 15-year prison sentence to the death sentence — and blocked Canadian canola exports to China.

In the U.K., Huawei equipment is deployed only after it is evaluated by the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre. Findings presented in a 2019 report to the U.K.’s national security adviser stated that Huawei is grossly insecure and poses “significantly increased risk to U.K. operators.”

Canada has not yet made the decision to allow Huawei to provide equipment for the country’s 5G wireless network.

The city said it is in talks with telecommunication companies like Telus and Rogers to look into 5G and its implications and uses in the city. Telus works with Huawei, while Rogers works with Ericsson, a European technology company that can also provide 5G equipment.


Parsons said if the Canadian government gives Huawei the green light, cities cannot stop 5G technology from being rolled out. He added that although city council may not be able to push back against the use of Huawei’s technology, they can make it more “miserable to deploy.”

“They could go through all sorts of machinations to delay and slow access to the infrastructure to build up 5G radio systems,” he said. “I learned a long time ago never to underestimate what a city council can do if it really wants to be obstinate.”

James Swanson, a Calgary lawyer practising in the area of technology, cyber security and privacy, says that though Huawei is a concern for him, he warns there is potential for abuse of 5G technology in general as well.

“Because of the nature of services available on 5G … we are basically setting up what is called the internet of things, which is billions of wired devices of every sort imaginable — security cameras, self driving cars, factory control systems, doorbell cameras — so if you have more devices you’ve got more potential security openings into a network,” he said.


“As we increase access points, we increase potential vulnerabilities.”


Kashmala Fida is an Edmonton-based reporter covering City Hall and diversity.