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Starry eyes single-family homes

Starry – a fixed wireless Internet provider with ambitions similar to those of Verizon – said it is now targeting single-family homes with its new Starry Comet product.

However, the company said it will initially rely on technicians to install the receiver for the product in customers' homes, though it left the door open for allowing customers themselves to do the installation at some unspecified point in the future.

Importantly, CEO Chet Kanojia said the introduction of the new Starry Comet receiver will significantly increase the company's total addressable market. In Boston, for example, he said the product will quadruple Starry's potential customer base, and in Los Angeles it will increase the size by a factor of ten.

Prior to the launch of the Starry Comet, the company had been selling its fixed wireless Internet services exclusively to customers who live in large apartment complexes – a business model that's virtually identical to the one that Google Webpass employs. Now, though, Starry will be able to also sell its services to single-family homes that are within range of its basestations, thus increasing the number of customers it can potentially add to its network. Kanojia said the company's network can support transmissions to receivers up to 1.2 miles away from its basestations.

"It's really intended to go after the mass market," Kanojia said of the company's new Starry Comet, explaining that Starry will now sell its services directly to consumers rather than to apartment complex owners.

Kanojia said Starry's Internet offer remains unchanged: The company sells unlimited Internet services for $50 per month at speeds of 250Mbit/s, though he added the company also sells 1Gbit/s services to some customers. He said Starry is planning to launch additional pricing options within a few months.

Starry began offering commercial services in Boston in 2017, and after landing $100 million in funding it promised to expand to almost two dozen cities in 2019. However, Kanojia said the company backtracked from that expansion plan after winning 104 licenses in the FCC's 24GHz spectrum auction in 2019 covering more than 40 million households. Kanojia said Starry still plans to expand to a number of major US markets, and eventually hopes to offer services to a total of 30 million households, but he would not provide a firm timeline for those efforts.

Instead, Kanojia said Starry is working to improve and expand its services in its existing commercial markets: Denver; Los Angeles; New York; Washington, DC; and Boston. It's doing so with operations in the 37GHz and 24GHz spectrum bands using a derivation of the 802.11ax Wi-Fi transmission standard running over equipment the company developed internally.

Kanojia said Starry has been enjoying successes in its existing markets; he said the company is growing its subscriber base by 10% to 15% each month. He declined to provide specific customer numbers, but the financial analysts at MoffettNathanson estimated in June that Starry would reach the 100,000-customer mark by the end of 2020.

In expanding its amtitions to single-family homes in major US cities, Starry is tackling the exact same market that Verizon is eying with its 5G Home fixed wireless service. Indeed, the two companies have the same eventual buildout goal: covering 30 million households, or roughly 24% of the US.

Verizon, for its part, has said that it plans to re-start its 5G Home expansion effort in October, thanks to the release of new Qualcomm chipsets that can support broader coverage areas in millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum, alongside receivers that customers can install themselves. Indeed, U.S. Cellular just Thursday said it successfully tested a mmWave 5G transmission with Qualcomm and Ericsson across roughly three miles. Such distances are critical to the success of fixed wireless offerings in general, considering providers can only score revenues from the customers they can successfully reach with their transmission sites.

Interestingly, Starry may eventually add rural operations to its existing efforts in major metropolitan areas like Boston and Denver. The company confirmed it has applied to participate in the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which will allocate up to $16 billion in an auction in October to telecom companies willing to build Internet services in unconnected areas of the US.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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