AT&T, Verizon, other cellular carriers don't need to worry about Starry's disruptive debut

With this week's launch of Starry, the new technology company founded by former Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, comes a good reminder of just how difficult it is for newbies to break into the U.S. cellular biz. And by difficult, let's just say impossible.

Starry bills itself as deploying "the world's first millimeter wave band active phased array technology" for consumer Internet communications, aiming to deliver Internet speeds of up to one gigabit to the home. Founded by Kanojia and the team of engineers that helped create Aereo, which tried to disrupt the TV/video industry but ended up in bankruptcy, Starry plans to use Wi-Fi and millimeter wave technology to deliver a fixed wireless solution to homes.

Fixed wireless is nothing new, as Kanojia notes, reminding us that some iterations have worked and some have not. Clearwire is a great example of what didn't work despite the resources at its disposal – at times it didn't seem to know whether it wanted to be a fixed or mobile play. In the end, it was neither.  

Like cable companies, Kanojia and his team see the value in Wi-Fi, but he doesn't sound bullish about trying to stitch together something that would compete with cellular carriers; this is more about targeting the incumbent fixed ISPs serving homes and businesses across the country. "Unless you've got low-frequency spectrum, I don't know how anybody competes in mobility," Kanojia said. And while a lot of future millimeter spectrum can be made available, he doesn't see true mobility working in those higher bands – think 60, 70, 80 GHz – in this decade.

"I sort of loosely say, one of the greatest examples of fixed wireless working is Wi-Fi," Kanojia told FierceWirelessTech. In considering the options, "you start looking at the band plans and quickly, strategically, say anything under 6 GHz, the cellular guys are going to try to get into pretty heavily," he said. "They have more money than God, so I'm not sure that's a good area for us anyways." Then you start looking at spectrum at 24 GHz and above, and there are plenty of challenges, but the 37 GHz range might be the sweet spot for Starry.

To be clear, "we're really smart people, but we're not that good," he said. "We took a tremendous short cut, which we think is the right strategic short cut." The company didn't develop its own radios; it's using 802.11ac MIMO radios off the shelf, having figured out a way to convert them to a higher frequency band without causing distortion, he said.

The secret sauce, so to speak, is that millimeter wave band active phased array technology. Using a self-installation system, the company says consumers will be able to buy Starry products directly and connect to the Internet in minutes without onerous contracts, data caps or waiting for an installer. Starry says its architecture allows it to leverage OFDM radio technology, including MU-MIMO, in a dense architecture across multiple spectrum bands, including ultra-high frequency millimeter waves.

What Starry really seems to be doing, at least at this early stage, is a connected home/Internet of Things play. Its first consumer product, called Starry Station, is an ambient touchscreen Wi-Fi hub designed to provide a window into the user's home Internet health, Wi-Fi conditions and device connectivity. The company says Starry Station is built with a dual radio that is 802.15 ready for future Internet of Things features and has the ability to support a range of connected devices in the home or business. Starry Station will retail at $349.99 and people will be able to reserve at Starry.com until Feb. 5. After that, Starry Station will be available for sale on Starry.com and pre-order on Amazon Launchpad.

Starry's orders begin shipping in March, so we'll have to see how this venture turns out. Given the myriad technologies that are being bantered about for IoT, both in the home and outside, it's refreshing to see a new, potentially disruptive technology attempting to make some sense of it all. When you think about it, Wi-Fi is a critical component in the connected home. But it's also a pain point for non-technical consumers who are calling their service providers when they have problems. With Starry's Station, it will be offering at least one way to address the consumer pain points and promises to eliminate a lot of problems before consumers need to reach for the phone. That sounds like a win. Let's hope Kanojia's bet this time works out.--Monica

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