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It's Canada Day...do you know where YOUR dog is?

Craig Koshyk


I recently received an email from a friend in the US who owns a Garmin Astro. The Astro is relatively new device that, in my opinon, should be ranked right up there with fire and the wheel in terms of revolutionary technology. In a nutshell, it allows you to know exactly where your dog is at all times within about a 7 mile radius! It does that by sending a signal from the dog's collar to a hand-held GPS unit carried by the handler. Astro's are really catching on in the US. In Canada however, they are not (yet) approved for use, so we can't buy one from a local GPS shop or even order one in from a US supplier.

So my friend was wondering what would happen if he brought his unit over the border and used it while he ran his dogs in Canada. Apparently there are internet rumours out there claiming that the Canadian authorities will confiscate any such unit and fine the user up to 20 grand for using it and then impound his/her vehicle! So far no mention of strip searches and waterboarding, but it is probably only a matter of time before the rumour goes viral and ends up with some sort of connection to 9/11 and ninjas.

So anywho, I decided to see if I could get to the bottom of this whole thing by contacting the Canadian Government department in charge of all things radio/gps related. After spending a couple of hours wandering through the Kafka-esque maze of Candadian Government bureaucrats and other forms of plant life, I finally found someone who knew what he was talking about.

Here is what I gathered from a very helpful fellow at Industry Canada, the dept. charged with regulating these kinds of things.

1. The Garmin Astro is not approved for use in Canada. This is because...

2. The Garmin Astro uses the MURS band to transmit from the dog's collar to the hand-held reciever. Unlike in the US, the MURS band is not free to use in Canada. You need to buy a licence for a specific frequency on it. Anyone can get a license for an approved devise like a radio and base station. It costs a few bucks, but is pretty much available to anyone with a walkie talkie. You just purchase a license from the Gov. and voila! You are good to go. Farmers, foresters, pizza delivery guys all over the place have licences for a MURS frequency. So in theory, you could just buy a licence for the frequencies that the Astro uses and head to the field. But....

3. The Astro is not approved for use in Canada. From what I gather, Garmin has not jumped through the hoops of submitting it for approval (yet?) since they know that MURS band is not free up here and in order for them to get exclusive use of the frequencies for the unit, they would have to buy out a lot of folks to get them off the band...ie: $$$$$$ Either that, or they realize that every Canadian Astro user would have to fork over more cash to buy his/her own license to use the thing in the field.

4. You see, the Astro uses all 5 frequencies of the MURS: 151.82, 151.88, 151.94, 154.57, 154.60. I did a check on one of them (151.82) just to see how many others are on MURS up here (there is a search function on the website of Industry Canada where you can find out.). Well, it turns out that there are lots of people and organizations that have purchased licenses for one or more frequencies on the MURS band. Everything from Government agencies (probably foresters) to some city of Toronto workers to farmers in Saskatchewan. So that means if you are using the Astro near them, you could interfere with their radios.

5. So there you have it. The reason is NOT some super secret Canadian Gov. frequency used to track drug lords and assorted terrorists. It is all about the way the MURS range of frequencies is managed in Canada. I suppose that Garmin could have bought out all the current licences users on the MURS band if they thought they could sell enough units up here to still make a profit. But alas, the accounting dept. told them "no way!" I figure that is why they haven't even sent the unit up here to be tested and approved for use. Even if it passed all the tests (I'm sure it would, all other Garmin devises are approved), it still could not be used due to the frequency thing...each and every user would have to buy a license for all five frequencies.

But fear not! Apparently the Canadian Gov. may be moving towards the same sort of set up as in the US, a free-for-all MURS band. Here is what they say on their site:

3.2.3 MURS in the 150 MHz Band

In its consultation, the Department proposed to designate five frequencies, after a five-year transition period, in the 150 MHz band for use by MURS devices. The frequencies were 151.820 MHz, 151.880 MHz, 151.940 MHz, 154.570 MHz and 154.600 MHz.

The Department also noted that MURS devices posed some potential for intermittent disruption to existing users on these channels and on some adjacent channels. However, historically, this has always been the case with the 150 MHz band, which has always been licensed on a shared basis to many private, commercial and public safety users. Therefore, all users have had to co-exist for many years with the realization that the spectrum is shared among many users.

In general, Canadians expect to have access to the same range of electronic and wireless products and services that are available elsewhere in North America. However, making these frequencies available for these wireless consumer products often poses several challenges. One of the primary challenges is that the desired spectrum is often already in use. This means that incumbent licensees need a reasonable notification period to move to other frequencies to avoid interference to their radio services.

There were several public comments received from fire departments, their associations and the municipalities in which they operate. The comments voiced concerns about the potential for interference from MURS devices to their operations and their desire for exclusive public safety spectrum. Industry Canada has met several times with senior representatives from the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC). Through this ongoing dialogue, a better understanding of the implementation and timing of this policy has been achieved.

Decision:

The Department establishes the following spectrum utilization policy to permit the operation of MURS devices, on a licence-exempt basis, and to enable current licensees to eventually migrate to other channels should they so desire.

The Department designates the following channel limits for the use of MURS devices:

151.81438 - 151.82569 MHz
151.87438 - 151.88563 MHz
151.93438 - 151.94563 MHz
154.56000 - 154.58000 MHz
154.59000 - 154.61000 MHz

In addition, a moratorium on any further licensing of these channels to new land mobile systems is now in effect.

The Department establishes the following time frame to permit MURS devices to operate in these five channels in the 150 MHz band.

  1. a five-year transition period is established from the publication date of this spectrum policy, after which the distribution and sale of MURS devices will be permitted;
  2. all affected licensees will receive notification letters following the publication date of this spectrum policy and two years before the end of the transition period;
  3. affected licensees that wish to move to other frequencies, at their own cost, will be accommodated with new frequencies where possible. The Department will inform licensees of the availability of alternate frequencies, on a case-by-case basis, at the request of the licensee;
  4. licensees may continue to use these frequencies on a secondary, no protection basis, but may be subject to interference from the operation of MURS devices; and
  5. the Department will establish appropriate technical limits for the MURS devices in a relevant Radio Standard Specification (RSS) and/or a Standard Radio System Plan (SRSP). The provisions of paragraph (iii) and (iv) will also be applied to certain adjacent frequencies, as listed in the relevant SRSP.
So the bottom line is this. The Garmin Astro is not approved for use in Canada and even if it were, each unit would (currently) need a license for the frequencies. But wheels are in motion to change all of this. From the document quoted above, dated June 1, 2009, it looks like it will take FIVE YEARS, for all of this to be cleared up. By then, I expect that other manufactures will have Astro-like devices, maybe ones that use a different band..who knows?

So, to get back to the original question:
if you bring your Garmin Astro with you to Canada this season and use it in the field, will you be treated to a waterboarding session while government ninjas impound your car and bank account?

No.

Industry Canada is interested in compliance, NOT punishment. And they are not in the business of skulking around hay bails in Saskatchewan with scanners looking for law breaking Yankies with fancy collars on their high falutin dogs. So if a guy were to bring an Astro up here and it did happen to interfere with farmer Brown's radio base station and tractor in the field, or with a hydro worker repairing a line, he may be asked to turn it off and to stop interfereing with the frequency. No fines, no waterboarding.

However, if he then continued to use it, despite the warning, he could face stiff penalties. But twenty grand and the loss of his car? Nope. Unless he was following fire trucks in downtown Toronto and deliberately screwing with their radios as they tried to save a burning convent and orphanage, I doubt he would get anything more than whatever equivalent of a speeding ticket gets handed out by the radio/tv cops.

Of course, I'm just some guy on the net, not a laywer, not a cop, heck, I'm not even coherent most of the time. So take lots of salt with whatever advice I may provide and weigh the risks-to-benefit ratio of whatever action you may take.