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Will Starry's Big Broadband Ambition Fall to Earth?

Conquering millimeter wave isn't Starry's biggest challenge.

Mari Silbey

February 4, 2016

4 Min Read
Will Starry's Big Broadband Ambition Fall to Earth?

Lest you had any doubts about Chet Kanojia's broadband ambitions, let me put them to rest.

The CEO of startup Internet venture Starry Inc. plans to blanket the world with his new wireless broadband service. I mistakenly believed Kanojia was only going after the US market. But it turns out that the Starry exec has much bigger plans. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Kanojia on Starry Internet.

Light Reading: "You've said you'd like this to be nationwide."

Kanojia: "Global."

LR: "Global! Oh, I'm sorry, I mistook that. Global ambition. But despite the potential capex savings here, that's still a huge operational challenge, particularly coming out of a startup. So why is that something you think you can do?"

Kanojia: "People have proven that startups can make electric cars that are better than Detroit could ever make them. Talent is talent. If there is access to capital and the appropriate talent, and people have the will to work hard and thoughtfully, great things happen."

Of course, Kanojia expressed equal optimism about Aereo, which ultimately couldn't overcome numerous legal hurdles, but that failure hasn't slowed him in the least. The plan for Starry Internet is to launch in Boston this summer and spread quickly from there. (See Last Chapter (11) for Aereo and Gigabites: Starry-Eyed Ambition in Boston.)

On the technology front, the company appears to have solid innovation on its side. Using high-frequency millimeter waves, Starry will deliver wireless broadband service with speeds up to a gigabit per second. Usually the problem with high-frequency spectrum is that the signal degrades quickly, but Starry plans to get around that issue with active phased arrays. As I understand it, an active phased array adds signal amplification and adjusts the relationship of signal pulses from multiple antennas in order to direct the signal pattern for best performance.

Figure 1: Starry Point Starry Point

There's another technical issue with millimeter wave technology, however. The signals don't penetrate walls. To overcome that obstacle, Starry requires both indoor and outdoor transceivers. Consumers will need a Starry Point antenna device that sits outside a window and communicates back to a WiFi router in the home. It's not an impossible solution, but by the look of the Starry Point, it's an impractical one.

Beyond the technical challenges, the business hurdles are even higher. Starry will need significant resources -- capital and talent -- not only to get its service off the ground, but for day-to-day operations, customer support, maintenance, sales and marketing, network upgrades and more. And that's without even factoring in the competition. Incumbent Internet service providers aren't going to back away from a startup, and the big brands have deep pockets to fight against challengers like Starry.

Want to learn more about gigabit broadband? Join us for Light Reading's second annual Gigabit Cities Live event taking place this year on April 5 in Charlotte, N.C.

One could make the case that Starry could make a living off the other part of its two-pronged business, the Starry Station. The Starry Station is a WiFi router that boasts the ability to bring some much-needed intelligence to the in-home network. This is a hot area for the industry right now because consumers are demanding better WiFi performance for their connected devices (primarily for streaming video), and service providers are anxious to avoid support calls and customer dissatisfaction. (See Battle for the Home Network? It's On.)

Figure 2: Starry Station Starry Station

The Starry Station includes features for network health monitoring, automated speed tests, parental controls and more. It also has a touchscreen display and built-in support for future Internet of Things applications.

But again Starry is faced with growing competition. Traditional service providers are working on the same features, as are retail companies like Eero , Luma Inc. and even Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). Plus, the Starry Station is priced at $350. Kanojia claims that's not expensive for everything the product offers, but it's certainly not cheap either.

I have great respect for Kanojia. I will never be a CEO because I see too many possibilities for failure where true visionaries see opportunity. Kanojia may be one of those visionaries, but he still has a very difficult road ahead. I wish him the best of luck. He and Starry are going to need it.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Mari Silbey

Senior Editor, Cable/Video

Mari Silbey is a senior editor covering broadband infrastructure, video delivery, smart cities and all things cable. Previously, she worked independently for nearly a decade, contributing to trade publications, authoring custom research reports and consulting for a variety of corporate and association clients. Among her storied (and sometimes dubious) achievements, Mari launched the corporate blog for Motorola's Home division way back in 2007, ran a content development program for Limelight Networks and did her best to entertain the video nerd masses as a long-time columnist for the media blog Zatz Not Funny. She is based in Washington, D.C.

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