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Speeds and feeds are heading the hype in US broadband's multi-gig era, but Starry CEO Chet Kanojia believes a focus on 'consistent' latency and speeds more tailored to how specific customers use the Internet will help the company differentiate.
March 30, 2022
Thanks to the rise of streaming services and the broad use of individual profiles and varied channel packages, personalization is now table stakes in the pay-TV and video industry.
But what about a personalized broadband experience? That's a concept that Starry intends to offer via its growing fixed wireless network in the not-so-distant future.
Ironically, that idea is starting to take shape at Starry as raw, billboard speeds and feeds have once again become hot topics in the broadband industry. That's, of course, due to the recent deployment and expansion of multi-gigabit, symmetrical services from telcos such as AT&T, Frontier Communications and Ziply Fiber.
While Starry believes fast data speeds and affordable pricing are still important, the company also sees enhancements focused on latency and customizable upstream and downstream speeds becoming important parts of the mix in a market that is ripe for more competitive differentiation.
Figure 1: Accompanied by several execs from the Starry crew, CEO Chet Kanojia rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on March 29 to mark the company's debut on the exchange as a publicly traded company.
(Source: New York Stock Exchange. Used with permission.)
Today's broadband packages are simply too rigid and static, says Chet Kanojia, Starry's co-founder and CEO.
"This whole one-size-fits-all approach is just not going to sustain itself in the future, in my view," Kanojia said Tuesday – just a few hours after he rang the bell to signal the company's debut on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Starry, which just closed its combination with FirstMark Horizon Acquisition Corp., closed down 41 cents (-4.28%) to $9.21 each Tuesday, but rebounded a bit in after-hours trading.
Starry, Kanojia says, built its fixed wireless network in a way that can be personalized on a "customer-by-customer" basis. Starry plans to reveal specifics about that soon, but Kanojia hinted that the idea is to offer different value propositions based on how customers use broadband. For example, if the customer is an avid gamer, the focus should be on providing "consistent" – not just low – latency. Likewise, an architect who uploads big files will want a service focused on delivering upstream/downstream symmetry.
At the moment, Starry offers a set of uncapped broadband tiers, depending on the market:
200 Mbit/s for $50 per month
500 Mbit/s for $65 per month
1 Gbit/s for $80 per month
Starry also offers discounts to eligible homes via its support of the Affordable Connectivity Program, the replacement to the FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB) program.
While some enhancements and tweaks appear to be coming to Starry's model, the general idea following the company's NYSE debut is to maintain the company's subscriber momentum and to push ahead with a plan to deploy the service to more than 40 million US households.
"I think the stage is set up. The company is performing really well and we want to keep doing what we're doing," said Kanojia, who previously took on the pay-TV industry with now-defunct startup Aereo (he recently reflected on what he'd do differently if he had another stab at it), and was head of Navic Networks (an ad-tech company sold to Microsoft in 2008).
Starry ended the fourth quarter of 2021 with 63,230 customers, up 83.3% year-over-year. Kanojia estimated that Starry's been activating between 10,000 to 13,000 customers per month. "It's hard to imagine accelerating growth even more, even though we could just from a demand perspective," he said.
Expanding the MDU scope
And Starry, which has so far deployed its network to cover about 5.5 million homes in its current batch of markets, is starting to expand its market opportunity.
After initially focusing on multiple-dwelling units (MDUs) and apartments with at least 60 units, Starry dropped that threshold to 30 units about six months ago. In areas such as Queens or Boston, "I can see millions of these kinds of structures. It's hard to ignore that opportunity," Kanojia said.
Starry is also putting some focus on single-family homes with a small "Comet" device where prospective customers have line-of-sight access to a Starry basestation.
Fixated on broadband
Kanojia said a growing percentage of new customers (in the mid-to-high teens) have been opting for one of Starry's higher-end speed tiers. In the prior quarter, Starry saw average download speeds of 187 Mbit/s, average upload speeds of 115 Mbit/s and average latencies of 18.5 milliseconds. The average customer consumed 401.88 gigabytes of data per month, with the top 5% averaging more than 1 terabyte.
Kanojia said he likes Starry's capacity position with spectrum in the 24GHz and 37GHz bands. Starry, he said, is effectively taking a 200MHz-wide channel and turning it into an 8x8 or 16x16 multi-user multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) that works well when connecting multiple devices to the network simultaneously. That gives Starry "several gigahertz of spectrum per site," Kanojia explained.
And Starry will stay laser-focused on broadband and steer clear of co-marketing or co-selling deals with virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPDs) or other third-party video streaming services.
"We don't want an eroding product with dying margins with ad-supported and evasive things bundled under our name," Kanojia said.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading
Senior Editor, Light Reading
Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.
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