Chet Kanojia’s previous startup, Aereo, was ambitious to say the least.
Before it was bankrupted in the wake of an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, Aereo allowed customers to view live or recorded over-the-air TV on their computers, tablets, phones, and other devices. This approach annoyed cable providers and broadcast networks, which argued successfully that Aereo was infringing copyright by transmitting content over the Internet without permission.
Now, Mr. Kanojia has set his sights on a different industry: Internet service providers. Most people only have one choice for high-speed Internet at home, he argued at a launch event in New York City on Wednesday, because wired networks are so expensive to install that no company wants to dig up people’s yards and lay miles of cable just for the chance of competing with the existing provider.
Kanojia’s solution is a wireless hub called Starry. Designed by the same antenna makers who built Aereo, Starry uses extremely high-frequency “millimeter waves” to beam Internet through homes at gigabit speeds. This wireless approach, the company says, is “modular and efficient,” and can be quickly rolled out to reach thousands of subscribers in cities around the US.
From a technical perspective, however, Starry faces some significant hurdles. High frequency transmissions can carry a lot of data, but because they have such a short wavelength they can’t travel very far through the air and are stopped by obstacles such as windows, walls, buildings, and even moisture in the air. (Lower frequencies, which can travel over longer distances and through buildings, are known as “beachfront property” in the spectrum community and are highly prized by wireless carriers.)
To get around this limitation, Starry customers will have to install an antenna that sits partially inside and partially outside a window; the antenna will direct itself to receive an Internet signal from outside and beam it to a base station in the house. But the company’s Starry Beams, the municipal wireless nodes that send a signal to subscribers’ antennas, will need to be no more than a mile apart – the frequencies being used are so high that the wireless transmissions simply won’t carry very far through the air. This need for density might make Starry impractical for anything other than urban deployment, and might make it difficult for the company to expand as quickly as it says it wants to.
Starry will launch service in Boston starting this summer, and will roll out to other cities later this year. Hubs, which will start shipping in March, cost a penny under $350; the company hasn’t said how much it will charge for a monthly Internet subscription but has promised no contracts or data caps.
[Editor's note: This story has been changed from its original version to more accurately describe the timetable for Starry's rollout. The Starry hub will begin shipping in March, and Starry Internet service will go live in Boston in summer 2016.]