You may or may not have heard of Chet Kanojia, but chances are you’re familiar with the company he founded: Aereo. Following a protracted legal battle that ended in a decision against it by the Supreme Court, the innovative TV service ultimately went bankrupt following its bid to make a business out of transmitting free, over-the-air television to Internet subscribers everywhere. Maybe that’s why Kanojia’s new enterprise, Starry, has nothing to do with TV. Instead, it’s aimed at a fundamentally different (but equally entrenched) industry: broadband.
Starry is a wireless Internet company at heart. Unlike your run-of-the-mill cellular carrier, though, Kanojia’s company contends that its offerings are toe-to-toe competitive with wireline providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable thanks to “millimeter waves and proprietary technology.” Starry’s network runs on the 38GHz unlicensed wireless band — spectrum typically used by the military — and will ostensibly be capable of delivering “gigabit” speeds to subscribers’ homes.
Ironically, it works much like over-the-air television: the company’s Starry Beam femtocells (miniature cell towers, essentially) disseminate Internet from the roofs of buildings and other tall places using an active phased array, a system of hundreds of transceivers and transmitters pointed in all directions. Subscribers to Starry get service by affixing a tall, cylindrical receiver dubbed the Starry Point somewhere to the outside of their home (a window, for example, or siding).
Eventually, customers will have the option of pairing the Starry Point with the company’s 802.11ac (and early 802.15) Wi-Fi router, the Starry Station. The pyramidal access point features a big (3.8-inch), bright touchscreen that shows the status of the local network and the number of devices connected to it. Simplicity is the theme: a few taps lets you check your network “health” and run an Ookla Speed Check, or toggle guest networks and set up parental controls. Basic tasks are even simpler: forget your network’s name or password, or simply wondering about speeds at any given moment? A proximity sensor lights up the Starry Station’s touchscreen on approach.
Despite Starry’s potential, the barriers to market are many. The band on which it’s operating has the benefit of speed, but has a limited range (one to two kilometers) and is affected by weather conditions, walls, and other obstacles. And Starry’s service has yet to deploy — the company says it’ll begin a field test of Beam stations in Boston this summer. But Kanojia, who’s lined up an impressive group of investors including FirstMark Capital, Quantum Strategic Partners, and Barry Diller’s IAC, is confident in Starry’s ability to succeed where other “disruptive” broadband companies haven’t. “People have historically assumed fiber is the answer at all times,” he said at an event in New York on Wednesday. But without subsidization, Kanojia said, Starry’s solution is a far more economical alternative.
It remains to be seen just how Starry measures up to expectations. One component of the company’s network, the Starry Station, is available now for $350 on the company’s website and Amazon, and will begin shipping in March. (A Wi-Fi extender, the Starry Wing, will launch later.) Starry has yet to break down speed tiers and pricing save to say plans won’t have data caps, but assuming service rolls out according to plan, it won’t be long before we get an answer.